We had decided to have a crack at the Gibb River Road, which had been recommended as the best way to see the Kimberley region. After a quick lap of Derby we started on the road, which it is advised is only suitable for four wheel drive vehicles. Given that this time of the year is really the only time suitable to see the Kimberley, there was quite a lot of traffic on it and the gravel surface was very corrugated. In fact, we have nominated it as the most badly corrugated road we have been on so far – even worse than the infamous Moyale road in northern Kenya where we blew up a shock absorber in November last year. There are two schools of thought regarding driving over corrugations – one is to drive flat out and skim over the top (everyone else), and the other is to drive slowly enough to ride gently over each bump (us). So we cruised along nice and sedately while all the Toyota drivers screamed past covering us in dust. We found some fantastic bush camp sites, and thought we were going pretty well until we got a flat tyre which unfortunately turned out to be a cracked rim. We’re not sure whether it cracked because of the corrugations, or whether they just finished it off, but it’s now unserviceable. At lunchtime I got to reprise my tyre changing skills that I haven’t used since we bought the new tyres in Ethiopia. The main attraction in the Kimberley seems to be the Mitchell Falls, but that was too many corrugations away for us, so we satisfied ourselves with swimming at a couple of the smaller gorges along the route. After 500 kilometres of shuddering vibrations we emerged back on to the seal. We didn’t feel the need to visit Wyndham or Kunnunarra, but instead pointed south toward Hall’s Creek.
The next day we made it to the entrance to Purnululu National Park and the Bungle Bungle Range. Everyone we had spoken to said we had to go to the Bungle Bungles. The road in to the visitor’s centre is a rough 52km 4WD track, and there were a couple of groups of young French and German tourists trying to get lifts into the park because their Ford Falcon station wagon wasn’t suitable for the trip. One German girl came up and asked me if she and her friend could fit into the Land Rover. I was quite keen, but Catkin said “No way, Jose!” Just joking – we told them we going in to stay at one of the campsites, and they said they wanted a lift there and back in one day. We’re not sure if they ended up getting a lift or not.
Once we had paid our entry and camping fees we headed straight for the Piccaninny Creek carpark, and after lunch of sweetcorn fritters and fruit jelly (separately, of course) we spent the afternoon walking around the various tracks. The main attractions in the park are the dome-shaped formations and gorges, and the whole area is very photogenic. By the time we pulled in to the Walardi campsite, most of the good spots had gone, but acting on a tip we’d got from someone we had spoken to earlier in the day we headed for the “generator” area and found a nice spot close to a fireplace. That evening we sat around the campfire as our bread baked in the camp oven chatting to the three other couples camped in the same area. They were all caravanners, but were camping here because caravans cannot be towed into the park. We had a very entertaining evening listening to all their tales of their travels around Australia and sorting out all the world’s problems.
The next day we visited Echidna Chasm, which is a narrow gorge into which the sun shines only when directly overhead. We timed our visit for the middle of the day, so got to see it at its best. We did another short walk in the afternoon after lunch, and then made our way out of the park.
Since we left Perth nearly four weeks ago we have already travelled nearly 5000km, but still haven’t really got any closer to New Zealand. We have had our first “Shortest Day” since December 2005, although since we have crossed north over the Tropic of Capricorn we can’t really say we are in winter. The temperature during the day is still pretty hot, but it gets quite cool overnight. The sun rises here just before 6am and sets just after 5pm giving just over 11 hours of daylight. We have noticed that most of the caravanners seem to turn in at about 8pm – either that or they sit inside watching satellite TV while we sit outside listening to the BBC World Service… On the 25th of June we celebrated one year on the road, and although we both thought we would have been in New Zealand by now, we are still enjoying it. That’s not to say we aren’t looking forward to getting there, because we are, there’s just so much to see on the way…