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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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

South Australia by the Numbers

We somehow blazed through South Australia. But, we definitely plan on driving through again, probably when we cross through the great center. Besides, we missed the whales that live there from May to October.



Here are some interesting statistics from our journey in South Australia.
  • Time
    • Time zone: UTC+9:30; participates in DST (yes, you heard that right, 30 min off from the AUS Eastern time zone)
    • Day entered: 06-Apr-2017
    • Day left: 21-Apr-2017
    • Total # of days: 16
      • Nights slept in van: 15
      • Nights slept in tent: 0
      • Nights slept in hotel/etc.: 0
      • Nights paying for lodging: 0
  • Distance
    • Driven: ~3617 km (~2260 miles)
    • Hiked: 34.3 km (21.5 miles)
        Date Location Description Distance (km) Distance (mi)
        4/6/2017 Naracoorte Wet Cave 0.6 0.375
        4/7/2017 Naracoorte Victoria Fossil Cave 0.8 0.5
        4/9/2017 Victor Harbor Granite Island 2.551.59
        4/11/2017 Burra Burra Burra Mine Site 1 0.625
        4/12/2017 Mt Remarkable NP Ali Lookout Walk 0.4 0.25
        4/12/2017 Mt Remarkable NP Gorge Lookout Walk 0.6 0.375
        4/12/2017 Mt Remarkable NP Alligator Gorge Circuit 2 1.25
        4/14/2017 Flinders Ranges NP Akaroo Rock Hike 3 1.875
        4/14/2017 Flinders Ranges NP Sacred Canyon Walk 0.5 0.3125
        4/14/2017 Flinders Ranges NP Wilpena Solar Power Station Walk 0.5 0.3125
        4/14/2017 Flinders Ranges NP Wangara Lookout Hike (Upper and Lower) 7.8 4.875
        4/15/2017 Flinders Ranges NP St Mary Peak Hike 14.6 9.125
    • Fuel fill-ups: 5
  • Money
    • Total spent: $735 USD ($995 AUD) 
      • Consists of the costs of traveling full time in South Australia
      • Does not include gear or van conversion costs
    • Average cost per day: $19.86 USD ($26.90 AUD)
    • Average cost of diesel: $1.263 AUD per liter ($3.586 USD per gallon)
  • National Parks visited: 6
    • Naracoorte
    • Coorong
    • Mount Remarkable
    • Flinders Ranges
    • Coffin Bay
    • Nullarbor
Interesting observations about South Australia:
  1. Like Tasmania, at the stores, they do not “give” you plastic bags. You either buy plastic bags from them, or you bring your own.
  2. Unlike Tasmania or Victoria (or even West Australia), when they have a lookout, they actually bring you above the trees/shrubbery or at least trim them so that you can actually look out at the view. It was great! In the other states so far, they most often have trees and plants blocking your view so that you can’t really call it a lookout.
  3. Its coastline is a large section of the Great Australian Bight (kinda like a gulf), where whales deliver and nurse their young until they are strong enough to brave the open oceans.
  4. Unlike Victoria, they do not have a proliferation of road signs, leaving you wondering what the speed limit is.