Friday, June 30, 2017

Last Days in WA

By Jen.

As we drove along the Great Northern Highway, I knew we were getting close to the Northern Territory. This always breeds in me a sort of excitement, eager to cross the border. However, there was still plenty to enjoy in WA. Before we got to those exciting sites though, we managed to get 2 chips within a few hours of each other. When fixing the first chip, it cracked! Fortunately, it was on the passenger side, so not a big deal. Then, we didn’t find the 2nd chip, but we heard it. When I was later cleaning the windshield, I found it. This one had resulted in crack as well, but fortunately wasn’t heading to the driver’s region either.

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Fixing the first chip, resulting in a crack.



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The first good pic we have of a Wedge-tailed Eagle. They are always on the road eating roadkill.

Turning off the highway, along the Tanami Road, there is a huge crater created by a meteorite. It is the 2nd largest to have been excavated (largest is in Arizona). So, I made Jonathan drive 3 hours along corrugated dirt roads to go see it.

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Because there is so little rain here, the crater hasn’t been filled with water and sediment. It is still very much defined.

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While driving along those roads, we discovered (when we were trying to get cows off the road) that our horn sounded more like a quietly whimpering puppy than its usual full-throated blast. Apparently the water from the creek crossings managed to get into the horn and make it gargle a bit. We had to unhook it, poke a hole in it, and let it dry for a while.

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From there, we returned to the highway for a few hundred kilometers before we turned off for another long corrugated road towards Purnulu (Bungle Bungle) National Park, at least this one had a lot more to do and look at. The park is designated as 4WD only, as you need high clearance and there are several creek crossings. From some pictures off a tourist website, we figured it would be about the same as the road from Tunnel Creek NP to the highway. However, the first creek crossing we came across was much wider than, and not as rocky as, we had expected. Fortunately it wasn’t very deep and fairly firm, and we made it across (horn removed until we were done with creek crossings).

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The actual creek crossing (first and worst one).

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Ominous foreboding from vehicles that had gone before us.

You can see what is like from inside while going over that creek crossing.

First off, we hit up Echidna Chasm, which is a really unique gorge that is particularly narrow. At some points, it is only 1m wide.

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What the van looks like after a multitude of creek crossings.

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The Bungle Bungle Range at sunset.

Next day, we found the Bungle Bungles in the southern part of the park. These are the park’s main attractions. They are layered rock that has been worn away into the shape of beehives and domes, etc. Very photogenic and fun to walk through.

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One of the Bungles with a termite mound running up the side of it. They do this to avoid the floods in the wet season.
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Cathedral Gorge.

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A dry river bed made of solid rock. It had awesome lines through it made by debris scraping over it during the turbulent wet season.

From there, we decided to head towards Wyndham, to pick up its touristy items: 5 Rivers Lookout, aboriginal rock paintings, and Parry Creek Lagoon. While here, we decided to pull out the A/C for an afternoon cool-off. Shortly after starting it, we got an error. Jonathan went to investigate and found that our cooling fans (located under the van) didn’t like getting submerged and debris stuck in them. After clearing them out, the A/C worked, but we found that one of the fans no longer starts on its own, sadly. So we have to go and manually spin it when we want A/C, which is a lot up north.

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Five Rivers Lookout.

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Aboriginal rock art along a cliff face near Wyndham.

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Birds at Parry Creek Lagoon.

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Walking on lily pads.

From there, it was a stop in Kununurra for supplies and onto the NT border.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Devonian Reef National Parks

By Jen.

After Broome, we made our way into the Kimberley. Where the Pilbara might be described as big, red, and beautiful, the Kimberley can be described as big, wild, and dangerous. This section of Western Australia is known for its torrential wet season, its crocs, and its boabs.

We made a pit-stop in Derby, while trying to decide if we would cross the Kimberley via the Great Northern Highway or the Gibb River Road. One would mean nice sealed pavement the entire time, the other dirt roads, probably corrugations, and river crossings. Jonathan had appeared (to me; he disagrees with me) to be pretty discouraged that we wouldn’t be able to do the infamous Gibb River Road since we were 2WD. But, when I looked into it, I found out that high-clearance 2WD vehicles could normally traverse it during the dry season, so we had to make a choice. Finally, we decided that since only the first half of the Gibb River Road held any interesting POIs for us, we would take the Gibb River Road out of Derby as far as the turnoff for the Devonian Reef national parks, then cross over to the highway. Probably just as well that we did that, as just the small bit that we drove was fairly corrugated. It would have been a very long week.

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This massive boab is said to have been a place where aboriginal captives rested while their white captors waited for a boat. It is called the Boab Prison Tree. 

Just off the Gibb River Road is the first of 3 Devonian Reef national parks. They are all part of a massive reef (up to 2km deep) that formed hundreds of millions of years ago (Devonian era) and which has now been exposed by the elements in a few locations in the Kimberley. Interestingly this was before the evolution of Corals, so this reef was formed by colonies of bacteria! The first is Windjana Gorge National Park. This has a river that cuts through the reef. In this river, a population of 30-100 fresh-water crocodiles live. I was excited to see these creatures. Jonathan saw one one our way in at a random creek, but he dove into the murky water before I got to see him. It didn’t take long into the walk to spy a croc sitting on the opposite bank.

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Windjana Gorge.

DSCN3801It was still fairly early, so they were mostly sunning themselves. These guys are between 2-3m long. They aren’t considered dangerous to humans unless provoked.

Next, We followed the road to Tunnel Creek National Park. Here, a river went underground and created a cave, which later turned into a tunnel when the reef was later exposed. I loved this walk! It is actually a fairly scenic cave with lots of surprises. It is really dark down there, so you have to bring your own light sources, but it is a fairly large cave throughout the entire tunnel, so you don’t feel claustrophobic. The river flows throughout the entire length of the cave, so you have wade in the water occasionally. They had a warning at the entrance about crocs, so it made you a bit apprehensive when you had to wade through the deeper water where you couldn’t see through the water. But, hundreds of people had already made it through safely, so I figured there wasn’t much risk and proceeded carefully.

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At the entrance, we were met by this monitor. He was an impressive 70cm long. Jonathan almost stepped on him while the lizard was sunning himself.

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Some of the formations in the cave.

On the way back through the tunnel, figuring nothing new would surface, we were surprised to find out the source of the glowing red dots we would occasionally see along the walls at the surface of the water. Jonathan thought it was a fish eye at first, but when he walked closer to one, he discovered that it was actually a small croc! The first one was about 1 meter in length. The second one about 1 foot in length.

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Look carefully. Do you see the glowing red dots in the center of this photo? That is the 1-foot croc’s eyes!

Between the 2 hikes, we walked about 4 km, which was about all I could handle on my still-recovering knee. However, I was walking again, so that is something to be thankful for. We called it a day and camped at the nearest campsite. We were a bit nervous about heading further south on that road because there were supposed to a least one permanent water crossings. For them, they recommend going slow in 4WD. We figured we could handle it, but there is always that chance that it would be too deep or too muddy. The first one was shallow with only a small section underwater, no problem. The next day, we crossed two, with the 2nd being pretty large and intimidating. Jonathan plunged forward with decent momentum and careful driving. Without stopping, we saw the bow wave come up and onto the hood with water splashing up to our windows. I was too slow with a camera to catch the waves, as very quickly the waters receded and we were pulling out the other side. Jonathan says the bow wave made it look deeper than it actually was, which he estimates was less than the height of the tires. I would say we have successfully crossed a river!

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The last and largest river crossing.

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The bow wave rose up to the hood and water splashed onto the windshield.

Then next day we hit up Geikie Gorge National Park at Fitzroy Crossing. This one wasn’t as exciting as the others, but we did find the regular floodings’ heights interesting.

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This is where the Fitzroy and Margaret Rivers meet.

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This is the informational gazebo at the park. The white placards on the posts signify flood levels over the years. This year’s flood was level with the roof of the gazebo.



Fun Fact: The paper towels here have the same diameter paperboard roll on the inside, but the length of the rolls are are about 2.5 inches shorter than those in the US. Fortunately, this means my fancy paper towel dispenser still works, it just looks funky with a part that wouldn't normally show. The paper towels here also don't have the pick-a-size option. Only one size. However, that isn't as big a deal here, obviously, because the towels are smaller to begin with.


Friday, June 16, 2017

The Big Empty and Broome

By Jen.

After leaving Carawine Gorge, we started towards Broome. Here the Great Northern Highway skirts along the edge of the Great Sandy Desert. They call this section The Big Empty. There isn’t much. No POIs, no lookouts. Hardly any interesting landscapes. The trees and bushes are just tall enough to obscure your vision, but not tall enough to be interesting. Jonathan had to entertain himself by watching birds of prey hoping for them to plummet down from the sky to catch small birds and lizards. With his sharp eyes, he actually saw several catching things.

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The landscape in The Big Empty.

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A bird of prey in the distance.

Finally, upon reaching Broome, we picked up a few more packages we had mailed to ourselves beforehand. We now have stinger suits of our own so that we can go swimming in the northern waters without worrying about jellies or sun. I also now have a scoop for my canisters, making cooking easier. And, of course, we now we have the correct sway-bar down link. On the way towards Broome, Jonathan noticed our right sway-bar downlink was cracked as well. So, when we got the other link, he had planned on replacing both sides (good thing we had the spare from the ordering error earlier). But, we found that after another round of corrugations, the link had completely broke. Time to replace both! He managed to do it all outside in the sand in one afternoon. Friends, do you know how awesome of a husband I have? This trip would not be near so successful without his expertise, and probably a lot shorter because of the repair funds we would have to spend otherwise.



We were now in a waiting game. I have had this fungal infection on my back since December. I probably would have had it banished by now, but the first products I put on it were expired. Then, I didn’t put anything on it for about 10 days, while we were waiting on our van. During which, it grew in size. Then the stuff I had in the van was expired too, and not working. Finally, I bought some product from the pharmacy based upon the recommendation of the pharmacist, but after month, it still didn’t work. So, I went back and tried another product. This time, the pharmacist recommended I visit the doctor if it didn’t go away soon. After trying to get into several clinics in Karratha by walking in with no success (they don't have urgent cares here, just clinics and hospitals), we figured we had better just book an appointment ahead of us. As a result, we had several days of waiting in Broome until the appointment. You would think we would do more touristy things while we were there, but the things I wanted to do (see dinosaur tracks and the flying boats wreckage) required a really low tide, which wasn’t happening during our stay. So instead, we got internet, watched a movie, and did some errands. We even got haircuts. One day, we walked along some rock pools along an estuary. There were puffer fish in a few of them!

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Since this is a short post, I shall go off-topic and answer questions we often get. Since we left the Ningaloo Coast, it has been fairly warm, in the 80s. These are more the temperatures that I was expecting in Australia. Before that, temperatures had been closer to the 70s most of the time, which could be a bit cool with a breeze or in the shade.

We often get asked what a typical day for us looks like. I wake up in the morning about daybreak. Here, that is currently around 6:20 am. I normally lay in bed drowsing until I can convince myself to grab my phone and read my daily devotion. Jonathan typically manages to sleep a bit longer, but by 7am is waking up. If we have reception, he will get out his phone and read some news. Otherwise, he gets out of bed before me, puts up the shower, and gets breakfast. About the time he is getting breakfast, I finally get out of bed and get my own breakfast. As we start putting things away, we start discussing our route and plans for the day. Most days, we need to drive a bit to the first destination. We normally hit the first location in a few hours, where we do our exploring. By then, it is typically lunch, so we whip something up. Then we drive to our next destination. By 2 or 3 pm, we typically done for the day and find a campsite. This gives us a few hours to rest (I watch anime; Jonathan plays Roller Coaster Tycoon) and/or to do some errands (fix broken things, clean, etc) before dinner. After dinner, we normally watch something together before setting up our shower. We shower, brush teeth, and then get into bed. Before I hurt my knee in early May, I would do my exercises after dinner and before the shower. I hope start that up again soon. 

Fun fact: in most of the parts of Australia in which we have been, they get their drinking water from lakes or reservoirs. This is an interesting concept to me as I grew up in dry southwest Kansas. We fought for every drop of water we could find, and most of it came from an underground aquifer, which we are seeing how quickly we can empty. Up here in the northwest, they also get water from aquifers, so I feel right at home. I know most of the US also gets water from lakes or reservoirs. What is unique here (and that I like) is that they put fences up around the lakes and put up signs around the region letting you know the water catchment area. These signs remind you to be careful what you are putting in the groundwater systems.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Pilbara Parks

By Jen.

Technically after Denham (Australia’s westernmost town) near Monkey Mia, but especially after Ningaloo, we are officially traveling more eastwards than westward in our clockwise lap of Australia. This was commemorated with another foray into the Outback, in the Pilbara region. This was a recommendation from the family we visited after Perth and was a good one.

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Although few people live in the region, it is full of wildlife. Most notably right now are the birds, which love to flit in front of the van and perform evasive maneuvers. However, these evasive maneuvers are best suited to avoiding birds of prey, not big blue walls that are hurtling at them at 90 kph (55 mph). Makes for a very nerve-wracking drive when you really don’t like making roadkill. Surprisingly, most of them seem to escape death (and if they don’t, I don’t want to know about it), even if it is by going under our vehicle. I guess that extra under-chassis height does pay off in more ways than one. 

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This region of Australia really has RED dirt. It is really extraordinary. They have everything in the red spectrum from pale blushes of pink and orange to deep violet. Truly gorgeous to observe. The red dirt in the States doesn’t hold a candle to what you see out here. Plus, there are always lots of wildflowers here, which is always a plus in my book. The downside is that it is really obvious when you have dirt everywhere and this red dirt seems particularly “sticky”. It clings to everything and is difficult to remove.

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This is a Sturt Desert Pea. I have been chasing this since the first National Park in South Australia. This flower was on their logo, but it was so weird-looking I didn’t know what it was. So glad I finally got to see one in person.

First major stop was Karajini National Park. This beautiful park is jam-packed with dramatic gorges. Probably the best way to explore them is via hikes into the bottoms of the gorges, but with my knee still out-of-sorts, we mostly stuck to the lookouts, which were still pretty eye-catching.

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We did venture into a few more accessible gorges with shorter walks and easier steps. The first one yielded a pleasant surprise of huge bats hanging from trees. These things were enormous, probably 18 inches or half a meter tall with a wingspan twice that. I believe these are fruit bats, but I didn’t read any material on that to verify.

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Check out the teeth of the one at the very bottom!

The only downside is that right now these parks are packed and everyone was going for a swim. Made it hard to get great pictures.

From there, we went up to the oasis in the desert, Millstream Chichester National Park. Truly interesting to find a true oasis. It had been a homestead and station for many years, so many parts were modified for irrigation ditches for gardens, etc.




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At this point, I finally filled up my micro SD card after 3 years, so I had to delete old pictures each time I wanted to take a new picture, until I could get out my computer to delete them in bulk.

We made a journey back to the coast to get food supplies and fuel and decided to head back into the Pilbara to investigate Carawine Gorge on our way to Broome. Along the way, we decided to stop at Marble Bar, which makes its claim as the hottest town in Australia. The town experienced 160 consecutive days of temperatures above 100F (37.8C) in 1923-1924. It is also part of the largest local authority in the Australia (3rd largest in the world), the Shire of East Pilbara. It is named for a rock outcropping of jasper that was originally thought to be marble.

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The trail into the Carawine gorge is 4WD, but we didn’t really have any trouble until we hit the gorge, which is covered in deep gravel. We only got stuck a little bit once and were able to get out pretty quickly. Apparently the area is a working cattle station, so we had cows for neighbors and a great view.

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