58. FROM NT INTO WA! RIVER CROSSINGS, OUTBACK POLICE, DRIVE IN MOVIES & MORE....
We left Alice Springs and headed north for 2 days, straight up the Stuart highway which passed through… not a lot. There were a couple of nondescript towns/settlements along the way and the remains of the old stone telegraph station at Barrow Creek which had some information boards and had been recently restored. The 3200 km (1988 mile) telegraph line was installed from Adelaide in the south, to Darwin in the north in 1872. L and I had already read about the feat at Alice which is how the town came about, as it was a half way point for the men working on the line. Hundreds of Afghan cameleers worked on the line using their camels to carry the poles and equipment through the harsh Australian desert environment. Upon completing the line and over subsequent years, camels were set loose and after breeding prolifically now wander the outback by the thousands. In fact Australia’s well bred camels are now favoured over their Middle Eastern forefathers and are being sold back. So far L and I had seen a fat zero of these spitting oddities roaming in the wild despite driving through some outback regions known as home to vast numbers of them. Typical!
The $3-30 (£2) National park campsite at the devil’s marbles was rammed so we continued on to a free camp 10 miles further up the Stuart highway. This was when we passed a car on the verge. It was dark, the doors were open and from what we could make out, a few people were standing outside of the car. As we slowed down on approach the voice of our Brisbane Workaway host was ringing in our ears, “Don’t stop for anybody, you don’t know who they are!” We passed the car unsure if their waves were hello waves or I’m-trying-to-flag-you-down waves. A bright flash blinked in the rear view mirror. Stopping to help people in the daylight is one thing but at night, 60 miles from the nearest town and with no phone signal, is another. We decided to keep driving until the phone signal returned so we could call it in, getting them help if they needed it but we’d sort of forgot just how long that would take us. The road may have been ruler straight but driving in the dark is slow going, mostly due to the paranoia of hitting ‘skippies’ but also because with no light pollution, it really is so so dark. We ended up driving for a further hour before stumbling across a lay-by with a phone signal booster, this was good because it saved us driving further to the nearest town. The signal booster was nothing more than a dish pointing towards the nearest civilisation with a strategically placed metal stand to place your phone on. We waited for a minute and a single bar of signal appeared, just enough to dial 000.
Words neither of us expected to be exiting our mouths later that day were “Hello officers, is everything okay?” I’d taken over the driving from L who’d been at the wheel all day when an awesome vista appeared in front of us from over a hill. To give us a better view I’d abruptly swung a massive ‘u’ right across the road and then continued off the road before rolling to a stop. I would not have done this had I realised that a police car had been right behind us. Suddenly out of the dust (reminiscent of the tv show stars in their eyes) two police officers emerged from their vehicle. Luckily they seemed less concerned with my rash manoeuvre and more interested in making sure everything was okay before enquiring further about where we were heading. Considering the road only lead to one destination I thought this pretty obvious but L jumped in with a low-down of our plans which appeared to satisfy the officers that we weren’t running moonshine hidden behind the door cards.
The following day we waved goodbye to Northern Territory and crossed the boarder into Western Australia, or simply WA as it’s commonly referred to. WA covers one third of Australia and so the plan at present is to spend at least a couple of months exploring this vast area. On the topic of vast areas, L bought a somewhat naff but at the same time quite interesting post card showing size comparisons. This really throws our Australian overland adventure into perspective, even more so now that I've drawn our route on it.
There are strict quarantine restrictions on plants, fruit, veg, honey, and nuts when crossing the boarder into WA. We’d heard stories from grey nomads who’d recently done the crossing and had been made to surrender unopened jars of honey and sealed packets of nuts. Now would be the time to strategically place a few things towards the back of the cupboards had we not spent the last two days in The Keep River national park munching through packets of trail mix. The stop and search at boarder crossing was quick and not as invasive as we’d imagined it might be and before we knew it we’d arrived at lake Argyle. A man made reservoir holding over 18 times as much water as Sydney harbour and home to some 35,000 freshwater crocs, of which we saw none!
Our arrival in Kununurra and the Kimberley region required the retrieval of L’s year 2000 Kimberley map from the Crampervan’s library, it was another of his e-bay gems. We’d already established a few points of interest but a thorough breakdown of the area by Kevin, an employee at the Kununurra TIC, gave us a few more “must see and do’s” to add to the list. One of Kevin’s highlights was the Ivanhoe crossing. Unlike almost every river we’d encountered over the last month this one wasn’t dry, but it was low enough to cross. We pulled up and observed a number of vehicles make the crossing, the depth indicators gave a reading of 35cm (14 inches). According to the Crampervan owners manual (some of the readership might find this shocking to hear) the Mitsubishi has a wading depth of 50cm which is the same as a 300 TDI Land Rover Discovery. L knows this because he used to lovingly own one. 35cm isn’t very deep at all but the river was fast flowing and incredibly wide, in fact it was so wide that what we thought was the bank at the other side turned out to be a small island only half way! I won't deny that I was slightly concerned about the Crampervan’s door seals which I thought, given their age, might not excel at their job. Then there was also the added concern that if the van conked out in the middle of the crossing we would essentially be stranded in, what the sign proclaimed was salt water crocodile infested waters…not ideal for wading back to the bank. L dismissed my seal concerns and went on to reassure me that the air intake was well above 50cm, somewhere around 75cm off the ground.
Having observed a number of people’s crossings at various speeds. We concluded that the ultra slow method resulted in far less movement of the water, with hardly any getting thrown up over the front wheels and under the vehicle. In our minds this lessened the chances of getting electrical components wet so we opted for this approach. I should point out that there is a recognised technique of going at ‘some speed’ through water to produce a wave at the front, which then pushes the water outward from the nose of the vehicle. This leaves the remaining length of the vehicle in a shallower depth of water, preventing water seeping inside and also from going down your axel breathers. I’m not sure what an axel breather is, I just know that only oil should be floating in the Axel. Anyway, 35cm was too low level for the wave method to be effective. For maximum go forward power and slow speed, we engaged the low box and entered the river. What fun, I didn’t expect to get so excited at what is essentially just driving through some water but the impressive size of the river, the not knowing if the door seals would let in water, and the possibility of spotting crocs all added to the thrill. After making the crossing, we pulled over to croc spot and saw a small ‘freshie’ basking on a rock. (Check out our river crossing vid on our FB page!)
After what can only be described as driving though an orange wash out from the setting sun, we arrived at a nice spot by the river where it’s permissible to ‘free camp’. A handful of other 4wd vehicles with their 4wd camping trailer tent rigs had stolen the best river viewing spots but it was pretty much dark, so we settled for the nearest flat spot hoping that the morning would being lashings of salt water croc sightings. Unfortunately it didn’t happen, Kevin was wrong when he said we were guaranteed to see some here but really I think we’d just been unlucky. Kevin's next points of interest were a boab prison tree with a shady past, an aboriginal rock art site (a little better than in the Keep River N.P) and a look at the old town of Wyndam (which wasn’t worth the trip but the bakery was fairly good). The boab is an icon of the Kimberly and since seeing our first almost a week ago, I continue to find myself amazed by their unique shapes.
The drive in cinema is a must do when in Kununurra. It became obvious ‘just how novice’ we were to the outdoor cinema game when the gates opened and everyone drove in. Vehicles were reversing up to the huge screen, this caused L and I great confusion. We’d parked the Cramper facing the screen with the assumption that we’d sit in the van to watch the film but reversing clearly meant that you could sit out on the tray of your ute to watch the film. The ‘reversers’ all had different set ups. Some threw down loads of cushions and blankets, some set up deck chairs and one couple even had a sofa in the back. Hilarious. All around us other people were setting out chairs and tables, bean bags and blankets on the ground. We decided to set out our own chairs, cushions and table infront of the Cramper and then threw a blanket over our legs after adorning the table with drinks, popcorn, chocolate and crisps. Jurassic Park began showing under the stars. The film was incredibly dramatised and over the top as you would expect, although brilliantly entertaining especially with the added extras of three shooting stars and a few swooping bats.
Next up ‘The Bungle Bungles’ where the crampervan looses the spare wheel, on what will be our worst dirt road yet!…