Friday, 26 June 2015

Kununurra to Alice Springs

Yellow route: Kununurra to Alice Springs – 2400 km
Total so far: 22’266 km

In Kununurra, a surprisingly nice town, we needed to bring Kasbah back into shape (get him „dedusted“, greased and carefully checked) and plan our route from there. Our choice went for the Duncan Road, advertised in the Lonely Planet Guidebook as „the Kimberley’s other great outback driving experience but with only a trickle of travellers compared to the GRR“. This definitely sounded tempting and even more so because Zebra Rock Mines was on this route whose Sunset Tours are legendary. We found this to be a wonderful place with very charming and welcoming hosts. Their knowledge and enthusiasm for the Zebra Rock and the wildlife in the Eastern Wetlands of Lake Argyle is infectious. The Sunset Tour with the perfect orchestration of looking at a huge variety of birds (spoonbill, sea-eagle, brolgas and many more), the setting on a small island for a leisurely glass of wine with some nibbles, the colourful sunset. And after this, the timely rise of the full moon was indeed the icing on the cake.

In the Wetlands of Lake Argyle

 Wine and nibbles on the Sunset Tour

 Spectacular sunset

Impression from the Zebra Rock Mine

The first 100 km of the Duncan Road were uneventful but after Negri River ranges started to appear and the landscape remained spectacular until Halls Creek, playing hide an seek with the Northern Territory border (with no quarantine check points!). There were a few side trips, which maybe made for Lonely Planet’s comparison with the GRR, but of much less significance and beauty than the original. We still liked the Sawtooth Gorge which was a pleasant overnight camp.

 Duncan Road

Sawtooth Gorge – a wonderful camping spot

From Halls Creek we travelled North to the Purnululu national park with the world-heritage-listed colourful Bungle Bungles domes which look like beehives. 350 million years ago the sediment was laid down in layers, compressed into sandstone and eventually lifted up to form a mountain range. The dark layers in these outstanding sandstone formations have a higher clay content and hold the moisture better. They support cyanobacteria (primitive organisms, also called blue-grey algae). The lighter coloured layers have less clay, are more porous and dry out quickly. The raging waters of the wet seasons have washed out wide creeks and deep canyons, steep sided rifts and chasms, not to forget the astounding circular Cathedral Gorge, the result of a massive wet season whirl pool. We did fabulous walks in this impressive landscape along the Piccaninny Creek. But Echidna Chasm in the Northern part of the park was our favourite. 

 Bungle Bungle domes

 The layers are unique

 In the river bed of Picaninny Creek

 Cathedral gorge – a mystic place

Stunning Echidna Chasm

The road into Purnululu NP was rather corrugated and we were warned that the 52 km would take up to three hours. After the access road to the Mitchell Falls we were mildly impressed and it took us only 1 hour 40 minutes. On the other hand the road conditions on the Tanami Road after that were much worse than we had expected. The area is very remote and it’s not a highly popular route but the most direct way for us to get into Alice Springs. On the way we visited the world’s second largest meteorite crater called Wolfe Creek Crater with a diameter of 875 m and about 50 m from the rim to the present crater floor. It’s estimated that the mass of the meteorite was about 50’000 tonnes and it all happened about 300’000 years ago. Back into present times – we went to visit three Aboriginal communities (Billiluna, Balgo and Yuendumu) which were all different and even though the Art Centres in Balgo and Yuendumu were advertised, we only found the doors shut.

 Wolfe Creek Crater

Campfire – gravel pit on Tanami Road

Corrugation on the Tanami Road

Approaching Alice Springs was driving towards dark clouds but the the sky was spectacular to look at. Shortly before we hit bitumen the rain set in and got stronger and stronger. Lightning and growling thunder made for a real thunderstorm and as we drove along Ilparpa Road the rain turned to hail and we had to stop. We were sitting in the middle of that heavy hail which hadn’t happened for decades in Alice Springs as people told us afterwards. After a few minutes the road looked like covered with snow. Also the temperature had dropped from 25°C down to 13°C within minutes. Meanwhile we are back to sunny and dry weather. Since last Saturday we are on the road again about to explore the Red Centre including the iconic Uluru.

 Before the storm

 Serious hail....

The road after the hail storm.....

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Derby to Kununurra

Yellow route: Derby to Kununurra - 1836km
Total so far: 19'866

The Gibb River Road (GRR oder Gibb) is arguably one of the main attractions of Western Australia and we were very excited about this part of our journey. The expectations were quite high because everybody mentioned how much we will like the GRR. 
Retrospectively we are happy to say that we were not disappointed! The GRR is „only“ 660 km long and certainly a worthwhile stretch to drive, but it is the side trips — in our case another 1000 km — off the GRR that make it unforgettable. The icing on the cake was the beautiful weather. Since we have left Broome we don’t have to bother about a weather forecast anymore. It is just sunny everyday. Nice and warm (around 28-35°C) during the days and refreshingly cool during the nights. Another and most certainly the main reason is the incomparable landscape, the abundant bird life and the extraordinary gorges we enjoyed along the road.

 Water reflection - Lennard River at Windjana Gorge

 Rock face - Windjana Gorge

 Freshie taking a sunbath

We started at Windjana Gorge where the Freshwater Crocodiles (Freshies) enjoyed sunbathing on the sandy banks of the Lennard River in significant numbers. The early-morning walk along the bottom of the gorge offered beautiful „bird listening“ and a mystic scenery with the huge rock face (surprisingly they have their origin in corals) reflecting in the calm water.
Tunnel Creek eroded an underground passage in the limestone and allowed us to walk and wade through the Napier Range from one end to the other. Most of the walk was in the dark and we were told that there are crocs living in that water. We didn’t meet any but saw some bats which inhabit the caves. Even though camping was not allowed at the Tunnel Gorge day-use area, we were forced to spend the night there as our radiator had started to leak. Fortunately we were helped by the highly-skilled mechanic and well-experienced traveller Paul from Switzerland. Soldering didn’t work this time but a Locktite Radiator Repair Kit did the job and we haven’t lost any more cooling liquid ever since (please keep fingers crossed). 

 Tunnel Creak

 The end of the Tunnel Creek walk

 Oliver and Paul investigating the radiator

A tiny little whole made them work for several hours

Bell Gorge offered excellent swimming and with some clambering over rocks led to several pools further down the river and to the top of a really nice waterfall. Whilst swimming and crawling we were acquainted with the Water Monitor, a lizard that is a fairly popular species in the Kimberleys. 

 Pool at Bell Gorge 

Water Monitor

One of our personal GRR highlights was the Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, an approximate 80km side trip (one way). This beautiful area was destocked in 2008 in order to create the fabulous sanctuary. The numerous offers of things to do are not cheap but the money goes into research of wildlife, feral animals as well as into the conservation of endangered species, mostly mammals. Apart from the excellent bird watching (we saw the colourful Gouldian Finch along with many others) we visited two gorges and enjoyed the rough tracks to get there. Dimond Gorge can only be explored from the water and we were happy for the opportunity to inflate our pack-raft for this occasion. The most beautiful sunset so far was put on for us at Sir John Gorge.

 Oliver – enjoying the sunset

Sir John Gorge

On the way to the legendary Mt. Barnett Roadhouse and Manning Gorge, we stopped for a swim at the fabulous Galvans Gorge. A lush pool with a waterfall, surrounded by tropic plants and a rope swing scored some points on the fun-factor scale. 
Manning Gorge was pleasant, we walked to it at sunrise, but the camping there was pretty average.

Waterhole near Manning Gorge

The obvious highlight was to follow with the Mitchell Falls. Although the way in was hard work on us and on our tyres it was definitely worth it. The walk was spectacular with the Mertens Falls, the Aboriginal rock art and the rich birdlife. For the way back to the camping area we took an eight-minute helicopter flight to enjoy the outstanding landscape from above which was jaw-dropping.

 Little Mertens Fall

 Aboriginal rock art

 Mitchell Falls

 Our helicopter taking off – it was just spectacular

Mitchell Falls from above

A long day of driving was made up for by the yummy scones served at Ellenbrae station. After the Pentecost river crossing, which was a piece of cake, the bitumen followed shortly and we decided to head straight to Wyndham and then to the Parry Creek Road where we spent a night with abundant wildlife at the Orde River.

Pentecost river crossing

On Sunday we arrived in Kununurra where we had to stock up and look after Kasbah, which has done a terrific job so far. Thanks to the three rules Peter in Melbourne gave us for the GRR (adjust tyre pressure, don’t drive at more than 80km/h, take a short break — and „kick the tyres“ — every hour) and some luck of course we came through without any puncture or ripped tyre!