Thursday, September 9, 2010

Farewell NT, Hello WA

(19 – 21 August 2010)

After a final dip at the hot springs at Katherine, the next phase of our trip takes us west towards the Western Australia border and another time zone. We stock up on food before leaving Katherine then later refuel at Timber Creek where we are introduced to the boab tree. Strangely, while the town is reported to have the most eastern location for the boab we quietly suspect that boabs were planted within the immediate 10km west of town as there is a good concentration here then not a single boab to be seen from the road – nada, zilch, nothing for some distance – but hey, it could be just nature up to its old tricks.

Nevertheless, the tribe think the boab look strange, or funny. Or as Billy says in ‘Are we there yet?’ – “It’s an upside down tree”!*

Being surprised by our progress despite our leisurely start to the day, we end up at Saddle Creek for the night, just 70kms from the border so we stuff ourselves silly on fruit and vegies which can’t be taken over the border due to quarantine restrictions. In the end, we are unable to eat all the fruit and vegies (and honey) so we donate/offer/give away to fellow travellers heading east.

Arriving at the border early the next morning, we stop at the quarantine for a short check on our car and camper-trailer. Questioned on whether we had any fruit, vegetables, honey, flowers, seeds and sticks, we hand in our manuka honey and dump an apple core.

Kununurra, the first town we hit, is a bustling town just 35km from the border – and the Coles looks like it does a roaring trade in fruit, vegetables and honey for those coming over the border like us. There’s not much to write home about apart from Hidden Valley in Mirima NP. Sure the town or nearby featured somewhat in Baz Luhrman’s ‘Australia’, there is the Ord River Project and Lake Argyle. It’s a good spot to refuel and stock up for the Gibb River Road (a 4WD track that travels through the Kimberleys towards Derby and shaves some 300km off the tarmac route, yet takes quite a few days longer), a place to organise flights to the Bungle Bungles, etc.

We grab some food and head to Hidden Valley to see the ‘mini’ Bungle Bungles, as the real thing is only accessible either by tour or by 4WD, neither of which are on our agenda. The stratified rock formations of ‘beehive-like’ mounds are of interest in the sense of how weird and why here? And why the distance to the Bungle Bungles and nothing like these between? Geology and landforms are a mind-boggling thing.

Heading along the Great Northern Highway, we pass by the King Leopold Range (a little connection to Belgium) to the west beyond Warmum (Turkey Creek) where I get flagged down for a breathalyser test. The first after 10,000km of driving!

Part of the area around Warmum is named ‘Violet Valley’, and by quirk of timing, we drive by as we head into the sunset hour whose fading soft light provides a violet hue across the vista. Our stop for the night was a little further at Spring Creek – a glorified caravan parking lot for those heading to the Bungle Bungles as caravans are banned on the dirt track into that NP.

Another refuel, this time at Halls Creek, the next morning – the town buzzing with life as locals head to the polls for the federal election and travellers refuel or stop for a snack. The town, much like a few others along the Great Northern Highway seem purely to exist to service the surrounding aboriginal communities and provide refuelling opportunities for travellers.

A further 100km from Halls Creek is the Mary Pool rest area where we stop for lunch. It is a large shady area with many camp spots nearby the Mary River and despite the croc warning by the river, the setting is inviting enough for us to momentarily consider this an over night stop. However, we changed our minds on two counts: one, we hadn’t driven far that day, and two, the wandering cattle (bulls included) could be a problem when they venture between your site and the toilets. So we nix this and head onto Fitzroy Crossing.

* 'Are we there yet?' is a kids book based upon the three-month trip around Oz by the writer's family where featured locations and experiences seem to be a coomon theme for us.

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