Gegenschein 103

Driving Around Australia in 80 Days in 2004.

Under construction and due in 2006 sometime

A science fiction (well, travel this time around) fanzine from Eric Lindsay whose address is now fijagh2006 (changed due to spammers).

This is under construction, currently on day 62 of an 80 day trip. We are adding bits from our notes, even for earlier days, all the time. Photos of the trip will be added later (I have 2985 on my computer to date)

Around Australia from Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach, 11452 km, latitude 20.15S, longitude 148.43E.

For the past four or five years Jean and I had been attempting to get away in winter for a driving tour around Australia. It was for this reason we bought the motorhome we formerly owned. Each time we started, something went wrong, including a death in the family, plus the multiple mechanical problems with the motorhome reported in my fanzine. We also usually had prior commitments that ensured we started late in winter.

This time we have a new car, Jean's Subaru Forester, and no prior commitments. We are also starting far earlier than ever before, only a few days into winter.

So were there problems? Packing a quart in a pint bottle, of course. An unseasonable cyclone in the Indian Ocean brought late rain across northern and inland Australia, and thus potential flooding outside the rainy season.

The major problem so far was on the day before we planned to leave. While we were walking around Airlie, I dropped my prescription sunglasses. Given our sunny climate, these are also my driving glasses. With choreography usually seen only in the movies, I moved my left foot into the path of the falling glasses, thus saving them from a shattering fall straight onto the bricks of the sidewalk. The intact glasses then made a short trip sideways, directly under Jean's descending shoe. This resulted in a snapped frame.

We rushed into the local optometrist, who alas could no longer get a replacement frame, nor manage a repair. We decided I would have to get along with a pair of normal sunglasses. Later that day I managed a temporary repair with Araldite two part glue. Guess I'll report later how well that lasts during the trip. [A year later, the Araldite repair is still fine - good glue!]

Day 1, Airlie Beach to Charters Towers, Saturday 5 June 2004

The first day of driving north is on the Bruce Highway, the main road. A good road, one lane each way, mostly through lush coastal fields of sugar cane. Very familiar to us from trips to Townsville. We refuelled a little before midday, when we passed Bowen. We expected that might be the last time we saw fuel at less than $1 a litre.

We stopped as usual at Inkerman for lunch, since the service station shop there has the best chicken salad sandwiches on the run to Townsville. A little further along at Ayr we noticed the indigenous opening ceremony was being held in the park with the giant snake. Looked like lots of people attending. We were pleased to have had a chance to view it on a previous trip before it became better known.

About 40 km from Townsville. we turned off the main highway and took the back road to Woodstock. No music, no rock, just a road that sometimes dropped to a single lane of bitumen. The 30 km stretch has about 6 bridges that are under water when it gets too wet. The road reports suggest delays then of between 12 and 48 hours. However this lets us avoid going into Townsville, and cuts a lot of kilometres off by the time we join the main road west, the Flinders Highway. There were carefully tended farms along the back road, mostly stocked with what appeared to be macadamia nut trees.

We stopped at a service station after a good run up the great dividing range (here little more than low hills) in a 110kph zone. This is road train territory, as are most of the rest of the places we will reach once away from the coast. We soon got stuck behind a three trailer road train. The countryside varied from native trees to scrubby grassland, some still dry looking despite being relatively close to the coast.

We stopped pretty early for the day, since we wanted an easy day. I'd been hoping to push through to Torrens Creek, but Charters Towers gave a much wider range of motels (that is, more than one). Charters Towers (11810 km, latitude 20.04S, longitude 146.15E) is 135 kilometers inland southwest from Townsville, on the Overlander's Way.

We settled into Charters Towers Motel, and after unpacking walked the half km to the shopping areas of the town. We always try to get a little walk in several times a day, and usually fail unless we need to walk to the shops.

There was a pretty park with a modern fountain, and a restored rotunda. Several of the older hotels had been restored and changed to restaurants for modern motels adjoining the old hotels. We noticed the Park hotel was offering a discount for seniors.

Charters Towers was once the second largest town in Queensland, back in the gold rush days of the 1880's, and even had its own stock exchange in the nearly square mile of city centre. Cattle country now. although there is still some highly mechnised mining for the last of the economical gold and other minerals, plus tourism.

Woolworths closed at 5, so we just missed that. Most country towns roll up the sidewalks even earlier on a weekend. Luckily a Fresh Express was open for items like milk for our breakfast. At the very pretty main street, with its restored buildings, we found a Red Rooster (an Australian francise somewhat like KFC).

Jean discovered she could get a Seniors discount on the half chicken that made up most of our evening meal. She liked having a discount card, but we often forget discounts might be available. We walked back to the motel past attractive renovated buildings housing police, post office and tourist information. The local council office was a modern open construction with an arch leading through to the main areas.

Apart from some reading, we didn't get much done before collapsing for the evening. As tourists, we are real wimps.

Day 2, Charters Towers to Julia Creek, Sunday 6 June 2004

Leaving Charters Towers, latitude 20.04S, longitude 146.15E.

Jean tried the Charter Towers motel phone, but her computer couldn't connect via it. This isn't an unusual problem with motel switchboards, especially in motels with a digital phone system. Jean had to use her CDMA cell phone to collect her email.

The motel room had a tiny fridge and a microwave oven, plus the usual tea making facilities. Airconditioning and a ceiling fan. Lacking were paper handkerchiefs and soap. Instead of soap they had dispensers for a cleaning liquid that smelled to me just like hospital antiseptic. Luckily we had soap with us.

We packed and repacked the car, and finally became convinced that just rearranging it wouldn't give us any more luggage space. I worked out we had actually discarded precisely one item, a very small cardboard box originally containing some extra plastic bags.

As we drove along the Flinders Highway, we saw more bicycles with panniers, and I marvelled as always at the people who would attempt long distance rides.

There were gentle rolling hills with low scrub and what looked like small gidgee trees. Outside Charters Towers the Flinders Highway was excellent, and zoned for 110kph.

Once out of the hills near Charters Towers, we had a dead straight stretch of road alongside the railway, disappearing into the horizon.

We stopped an hour down the road at a rest area for a midmorning snack from our cooler. We were a little surprised to find that the rest area actually had a toilet block. Mostly they are just a place to pull off, with maybe a picnic table.

The road took us through small towns with names like Balfes Creek (pop 12), where the railhead once was in 1884. Past the turnoff to Thalanga Mine, then Homestead (pop 100), Pentland (pop 300), established by the railway in 1884. Another stop for photos was at Burra Range lonkout, near the peak of the Great Dividing Range, at an altitude of a little over 500 metres.

We also stopped at the Exchange pub (ph (07) 4741 7342) at Torrens Creek (pop 18) where we had stopped several times before when in the motorhome. We found they had 9 hotel rooms upstairs and 5 motel units. The owners, Les and Denise Newland, told us it is up for sale, and they were planning to move to Bloomsbury. Best grafiti was encountered there "Australians think 100 years is a long time, Europeans think 100 kilometres is a long distance."

Grass plains, passing the start of the longest fence in the world, the dingo fence, which goes to South Australia. The Flinders grass was looking drier and drier as we passed through Prairie (pop 50), once a Cobb and Co stop before the railway came in 1884.

Once past the Great Dividing Range, we were in one of the flatest, oldest lands. Although only a few hundred kilometres inland, from this point pretty much all the rainfall in Queensland flows sluggishly inland, to Coopers Creek and if it hasn't evaporated, to Lake Eyre. None of the water flows to the sea. The water flow is slow, with land slopes of as little as six inches per mile, so rainwater can take the best part of a year to make its way down to Lake Eyre.

We stopped at Hughenden for fuel and lunch, leaving at 12:45 after taking some dinosaur photos. Lots of photos of Jean with weird giant animals, like Hughie the Mattaburrasaurus. One of the tourist revival themes here comes from the various dinosaur bones found in the area. Hughenden is typical of the larger towns in the area, with a population around 700.

We continued on to Richmond, on the Flinders, the longest river in Queensland. The shire has an area of about 27,000 square kilometres, about the size of Belgium. The town has a population of about 1000. It was originally a gold rush town, with 12 hotels. Then a sheep and cattle town, with the old Cobb and Co coaches, before the railway came through. Like most towns inland, Richmond depends on artesian water, with the first bore sunk in 1900.

We took a look at the Kronosaurus Korner fossil museum, and got more photos of Jean with dinosaur models. These included Minmi, one of the best preserved dinosaur specimens in Australia, which even had skin fossils. It also has a pliosaur.

We continued through ever flatter, ever drier mostly treeless country, covered in yellow Mitchell and Flinders grasses. A 360 degree view to the horizon in all directions, with only the road and the rail track to show humans had ever been here.

We stayed the night at Julia Creek (12310 km, latitude 20.39S longitude 141.44E), after a bit of a walk around the town (population of the area about 500). The pub had new motel units behind it. Nothing was open in town on a Sunday, of course, but the pub had a roast pork and vegetable meal available, and by then the temperature was down a little. A big feature of the town is the bi-annual Dirt and Dust Festival, which I guess says something. An associated event is the Kynuna surf carnival (no surf anywhere near that town of 18 people).

Despite it being winter, the outside temperature was about 32 degrees C for much of the day.

Day 3, Julia Creek to Camooweal, Monday 7 June 2004

Leaving Julia Creek, latitude 20.39S longitude 141.44E.

We set off from Julia Creek around 8:30, after paying for our phone calls. Luckily the Telstra Big Pond ISP number is a local call throughout Australia. Jean also had a phone card for calling her mother in the USA, so that also wasn't a problem.

The dead straight road took us through a flat terrain covered in yellow Mitchell grass. Every ten or so kilometres we would sight a farmhouse.

Cloncurry (pop about 4000) was our next town. We had been through before, and it is a handy historic town with a good range of modern facilities, and some real Art Deco buildings like the Shire Hall and Library complex. It also has the dubious distinction of recording Australia's highest temperature in 1889 (53.1C or 127.5F). Perhaps appropriately, it is also known for being the birthplace of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

We knew where the Woolworths supermarket was here, so we searched for a few breakfast items we hadn't been able to get prior to leaving home.

Between Cloncurry and the major mining town of Mt Isa on the Barkly Highway the country got hilly and much more interesting. There had obviously been recent rain, so there was a lot more greenery than usual.

We had originally planned to reach Mt Isa in two days, but our late start made that difficult. We had thought to have a rest day there, and perhaps check out a mine tour.

Instead we stopped at the Riversleigh fossil museum in central Mt Isa for lunch, followed by a museum tour. We had seen the D field at Riversleigh last year, but the museum places the fossils in more of a context. It also make it a lot easier to see them. I enjoyed the museum. It had some well done walkthrough dioramas. The film of extracting the fossils was a little out of focus, and the sound seemed muddy. Despite this it did help somewhat when we were actually in the fossil laboratory tour.

We did visit the lookout above town, and got a fine panorama of the town, although naturally a quarter of the horizon is dominated by the mine.

After the tour we decided to continue on to Camooweal for the night. Once past there towns are scarce, and not reaching Camooweal would make driving distances too much for us for comfort on the next leg. Also, we figured we would often be passing through Mt Isa.

There was a lot of road construction taking place, following the late close of the wet season.

A rest area between Mt Isa and Camooweal, commemorating the WWII road construction.

Mind you, once past the construction zone the road conditions were more interesting, although not single lane (unless the other vehicle was a road train, in which case we got out of their way).

We reached Camooweal (12789 km, latitude 19.55S, longitude 138.07E) around 4:30, getting the last of the six motel rooms at the Shell service station. This is nearly 200 km from Mt Isa, and well over 400km from Tennant Creek, so it is often the first or last chance to take break from driving. It is also only 12 km from the Northern Territory border, so we were finally leaving our home state. Took a walk around the town, which didn't take real long, given the population of the area is about 250.

We went down the road to the Post Office hotel for our evening meal. It was noisy and friendly, and the meat in the steak sandwich was still stringy. They came with chips (fries), and despite my diet I ate the chips. This hotel camping area was where we had stayed in the truck when passing through a couple of years ago, however it now appeared to be much expanded.

Day 4, Camooweal to Renner Springs, Tuesday 8 June 2004

Leaving Camooweal 12789 km, latitude 19.55S, longitude 138.07E.

We got away around 8 a.m. I had a minor panic attack when my car key wouldn't work with the keyless system, thinking the battery in the key had failed. However it turned out just to be an unclosed door blocking the key system (I couldn't see the warning light in the sunlight). We refuelled here, since there is only one fuel stop before the Sturt Highway, and places do run out of fuel out here.

We crossed the new bridge across the Georgina River just outside town. This was being worked on when we were through two years ago. Now it stands high above the old low level bridge. The angle of the sun was such that we couldn't get a decent photo.

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Northern Territory

We stopped at the Northern Territory border to photograph the signs. There isn't much else to see in this tableland, unless we came across an eagle squatting at a roadkill carcass.

About 65 km along the road we came across Avon Downs, an isolated police station in the middle of nowhere. There was a parking area, with a brand new pit toilet, replacing the dilapidated one we saw two years ago. The Territory government had a driver reviver station, an electric urn on a table, with tea, coffee and sugar. Bring your own mug. Plus the often present donation box for the Royal Flying Doctor service.

The next rest area was after Soudan station, another 65km along, past the Rankin River.

We needed to turn our clocks back a half hour for Northern Territory time.

We reached Barkly Homestead (13053 km), 1600 km from home, before 11. We each had a chicken and salad sandwich too large to hold. Great prices too. Jean was keen to get some photographs of road trains, as they are larger in the Northern Territory than in any other state.

The road was pretty boring, and we stopped at each and every one of them. At 41 Mile bore I recorded the mournful screeching sound of the windmill using my Psion. By then we were only 70 km east of the Threeways, where we intercept the Sturt Highway, the main north south road between Adelaide and Darwin. We had to refuel at Threeways, at $1.31.5 a litre (that is A$4.98 a US gallon, or US$3.50).

We decided to skip backtracking 35 km to Tennant Creek (pop 4000) for the evening, as it was only a little after 1 p.m. Instead we headed north on the Sturt Highway to Renner Springs.

The countryside was lush and green, unlike any other time I've been through. The recent unseasonable rain in the centre of the country had really made a difference, and the desert was blooming.

There was one small plateau formation called Lubra's Lookout along the roadside, where tribal women were said to watch the approach of tribes from a considerable distance.

Renner Springs (13381 km latitude 18.19S, longitude 133.48E) is a little oasis on the Sturt Highway, in the Ashburton Ranges. A natural spring, a small lagoon, and bird life. Nothing else is around. We reached it a little before 3 p.m., giving us an easy following day. The place was named after Dr Frederick Renner, who tended to workers on the Overland Telegraph line, who noticed a variety of bird life and found the spring that drew them.

We didn't see a great variety of bird life during our walks around the spring. A darter drying its feathers. The usual geese, who aren't native, and didn't attack Jean, who was careful to stay well back. Still, it was a pretty place to stop for the day.

We had steak sandwiches again for dinner. This time we ordered them with salad, and got a giant meal out of it. Pretty typical for country pub meals.

Day 5, Renner Springs to Mataranka, Wednesday 9 June 2004

Leaving Renner Springs, 13381 km, latitude 18.19S, longitude 133.48E.

We awoke at dawn, to a chorus of bird cries, however the loudest was a pretty standard rooster, nothing exotic at all.

By the time we were ready to leave at 8 a.m., everyone else had already left, often long before. Shows how inactive we are compared to all these 80 year olds.

We came upon a light plane parked alongside the main road. Obviously it would soon use the main road as a runway. Not unusual in more remote areas.

We stopped at Elliott (pop 600, Kulumindini to the Jingili people), the next town along. The outskirts seemed devoted to a dead car dump. It had at least three service stations, and the big feature is a 9 hole golf course. The town was developed during WWII, as No 7 Australian Personnel staging area for 1500 men on the third day of the run up from Alice Springs, and was named after Captain R.D. (Snow) Elliott. We didn't stop a little further along at historic Newcastle Waters, as there is basically nothing there except the 1936 museum.

One of the scenes Jean wanted to collect on photo was a road train. Not just any road train, but the supersize four trailer variety. We found one at Dunmarra roadhouse, but couldn't see all the road train for the trees. Near here is a tree with an S for Sturt carved in it. This was where Sturt's expedition found the water that saved them. Dunmarra is reputed to be named for Dan O'Mara, whose body was never found.

We stopped for lunch at HiWay Inn, wanting to see how the new owners of two years ago had developed it. Pretty impressive. We can report the chicken salad sandwiches are still large.

While we were there, a large tilt loader arrived with a giant diesel fuel tank. This was unloaded over a 30 minute period by sliding it onto an existing concrete slab, while we watched and photographed it.

This reminded us we needed fuel, only $1.27 a litre this time.

We didn't stop this time at historic 1938 Daly Waters pub, as we had visited there by motorhome in 2002. We had actually flown into the disused ex-Qantas airfield in 2003. This tiny, isolated spot, not used by commercial aircraft since 1965, was once Australia's first international airfield.

Further up the road, the caravan park and store at Larrima (pop 20) looked much the same, still with the large alligator out front. There is a free museum nearby, as well as the historic pub that was once a WWII officer's mess across the road.

On the way into Mataranka we diverted to the old Elsey homestead graveyard, to photograph the graves of the real historical people who became the characters in Jeannie Gunn's famous story of outback life, We of the Never Never.

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Mataranka N.T. pop 250, 13811 km, latitude 14.54S, longitude 133.05E.

We stopped around 3 p.m. for the evening at Mataranka, at Bruce Ross's very small Mataranka Cabins (ph (08) 8975 4838) camping area on on his farm and orchard on the Little Roper River, on a old WWII army site. This is very near Bitter Springs, a part of the 13,840 hectare Elsey National Park, which feeds the Roper River. Mataranka Cabins had a total of two self contained cabins. This seemed a sufficiently rustic site for us, so we booked into one of the cabins. I'll add that they had air conditioning, a microwave, a TV and radio, a hotplate, ensuite, and a nice verandah. Like most of the country accommodation, what they lacked was a phone connection for the internet!

As soon as we had unpacked, we rushed the three kilometres back into Mataranka to try to get a dinner. I had been lusting after one of the great meat pies we had two years ago. However we were told the place making them had fallen upon hard times. I figured everthing closed at five, but there was a supermarket, so we got some frozen dinners (chicken kiev), for lack of anything better. We got some crackers to go with the brie we had in our cooler, and figured this would be a good place to open the bottle of Clancy's red we were carrying.

Back at the cabins we changed into swimming costumes and walked into the National Park. About a half kilometre brought us past the Little Roper River to Bitter Spring. Although it is winter, being at 14 degrees south means the days are still warm, peaking at about 32 degrees C. The natural spring water was about bath temperature, emerging from underground at a reported 34C. It was very pleasant, although you had to keep swimming against the current to avoid being swept a few hundred metres downstream to the next access point. That I wouldn't mind, but the walk back barefoot over sharp stones I could do without.

Back at the cabin. I thought we had a stove in the cabin, but it was only a grill top. We investigated the cooking implements included, and finally micro waved the chicken kiev. Since by then we had broached the now fridge cooled wine (32 degrees C is not the room temperature required by red wine), we thought the chicken kiev tasted fine.

Meanwhile, Jean needed to check her email. Like most places we had stayed in the past week, it didn't extend to a telephone. Fridge, grill, microwave, utensils, fans, airconditioner, TV yes, but no phone. Jean had to connect to the internet to collect email via her cell phone, which is both slow and expensive.

Day 6, Mataranka, Thursday 10 June 2004

Staying at Mataranka.

Jean's phone messages included one that involved working to a very close deadline, in only a few weeks. Since she didn't need internet access except for email, we decided she could work best in an isolated place like Mataranka. One other option was to waste a day or more driving to Darwin, where we could get internet access, but where there were a lot of distractions. So we booked the cabin through to Tuesday morning, in the hope Jean could get most of the new book revised by then.

I went shopping at the local supermarket, and got supplies for our breakfasts, plus a couple of dinners and a bottle of wine. We had a choice of two low end chardonnay (Banrock Station or Nottage Hill) if we wanted white. One service station was closed. The Stockyard Gallery was closed. Didn't have much luck with sandwiches for lunch, and eventually reluctantly went back to the Shell station and raided their fridge for premade sandwiches. They were not as listed on the outside.

The Rural Transaction Centre (a government initiative to provide services to small towns like Mataranka, population 250) desk person told me that they had internet available via satellite at $2 for 15 minutes. I checked the room, and it seemed to have a bunch of RJ45 ethernet sockets, as well as their own computers. I asked about using our own laptops, but the desk person didn't know how we would do it, but raised no objection to us trying when we were next in with our computers.

I sat out on the balcony, and watched the cattle going home. Watched birds in a nearby nest. Watched insects, like the emerald green flying bug that inspected us several days in a row. Watched agile wallabies crossing the road to reach the water.

Each day when Jean finished work we walked down to Bitter Springs and went swimming at round 4 p.m.

Day 7, Mataranka, Friday 11 June 2004

Thanks to Veronica, the caretaker here, I was able to do laundry in a decent washing machine. The washing machine in the Shell station laundry, the only suggested alternative, is infested with geckos,

When I tried to use my laptop at the Rural Transaction Agency I was told by a (different) staff member that I coudn't possibly do that. Couldn't even try it. The staff member seemed deathly afraid of computers, and in fear something would break. So that was a dead loss. I can't really blame staff for being afraid to let us use our own computers. They can't really be expected to understand whether it will harm their network. However it is decidedly annoying.

Trying to get reasonable internet access via your own computer in country Australia is a disaster, if you can't get your hands on a standard analog phone line. When you have CDMA phone access you can use the cell phone. but that is both slow and expensive. GSM cell phones would also be fine, if they worked away from major towns, but they don't in Queensland or the Northern Territory. Anyway they are just as expensive as CDMA and even slower.

The search for food continued, with restocks at the supermarket. I got the last one of several items, like bacon. Stockyard Gallery was now open, so I got us some home made pies for lunch.

For dinner we headed to Homestead, about 10 km away near the splendid Mataranka thermal pool and Rainbow Spring, where we had stayed several years ago. The food service then had been pretty amateur, but we didn't mind that. They had an obvious bat problem this time. The smaller kitchen was closed. The menu in the main dining area didn't thrill us, and we couldn't get take away to evade the smell of the bats. We left.

Found an extra service station in town, but they were closed. We went on to Territory Manor, a larger caravan park in town. They had an excellent barramundi meal available. A slab of barra large enough that Jean coudn't finish eating it (not after all the salad she ate). That was pretty good stuff, although service was a bit slow (but very cheerful). We didn't manage to see them feeding their barramundi.

Day 8, Mataranka, Saturday 12 June 2004

Much as previous days. Jean working furiously over a hot keyboard. The search for food continues. The Stockyard Gallery gave by far the best results, with chicken and salad sandwiches.

Day 9, Mataranka, Sunday 13 June 2004

The Stockyard Gallery again for Jean's lunch sandwich.

At 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. I went out to take photographs with different light angles.

Day 10, Mataranka, Monday 14 June 2004

See previous day.

Day 11, Mataranka to Katherine, Tuesday 15 June 2004

Leaving Mataranka 13875 km, latitude 14.54S longitude 133.05E.

We headed back south briefly, for the 12 km drive up John Hauser Drive to the Roper River. This led us through a half dozen or so minor water hazards, where the high water table had left the road flooded after minor rain. We did eventually get to Roper River, and saw the river cruise boat used for the afternoon tours. Some more adventurous people were canoeing. Here also were the old 12 Mile Yards used for cattle in the past.

At Roper River Jean had a problem with her camera, which was failing to work. As I'd recently recharged her camera batteries we were at a loss to identify the cause. I finally thought to loan her my spare batteries, and that worked. Meanwhile, I found that I had filled my main compact flash camera memory card with photos, and had to move over to a tiny spare memory card. I'll get back to the cameras later.

We stopped at the Stockyard Gallery in Mataranka so Jean could see the range of aboriginal art available.

Then we finally headed north again for the short drive to Katherine. We didn't bother to stop at Cutta Cutta Caves, as we had seen these tropical caves on a previous trip. About 20 kms from Katherine we came to a sign for some store saying turn at the traffic lights. Our first traffic lights on this trip, and only the one set in town.

We needed to stay in Katherine (pop 11,000, 14022 km, latitude 14.28S, longitude 133.17E) as this was where we could get a motel room with a phone. We stayed at the Mercure, just out of town, and it was very comfortable. I was suffering from a cold, although I don't know how I picked it up in the tropics.

We did some food shopping, of which Jean ate most. Although there was both a bookshop and a newsagent in town, I couldn't find anything I wanted in them. Tuesday was a day early to get the Tuesday newspaper, which arrives on Wednesday. A day old newspaper is a lot better than the past week, where no newspapers were available.

We were both able to catch up on email, however the best speed we got over the phone line was 28 kbps. This was my first chance at a phone line during this trip.

Day 12, Katherine, Wednesday 16 June 2004

Staying at Katherine.

The Katherine area was first used by the Jawoyn and Dagoman people, whose territory includes the Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park we visited in 2002. Ludwig Leichhardt came through in his 1844 expedition, but the river was named after his daughter Catherine by explorer John McDowell Sturt in 1862. Like many towns along the Sturt highway, it developed after the Overland Telegraph came through at Knott's Crossing. At 11,000 people, Katherine is the third largest town in the Northern Territory.

Jean had managed to send her revised OpenOffice book off to O'Reilly, so she went off food and wine shopping.

Later in the day, when the Ghan arrived at Katherine railway station, she went off to see that during its four hour stop. She managed to talk her way onboard, and take photographs inside the various dining and standard cars.

XXX Jean to add more material about the Ghan.

Later evidence showed she had done more food shopping, and brought back six little Magnum ice creams. Well, they won't keep. We finished the last as a finale for breakfast next day.

Day 13, Katherine to Victoria River Crossing, Thursday 17 June 2004

Leaving Katherine, 14072 km, latitude 14.28S, longitude 133.17E.

We were fairly late, around 9 a.m., heading off from the Mercure motel.

Jean's Kodak digital camera had again failed, with the batteries I'd recharged showing half full. Alkaline batteries didn't work at all. Jean also thought she had dropped the camera. We decided to try new batteries from Tandy in Katherine, since she wanted a replacement long life Lithium battery in any case (we have had great results with these, despite the high cost). Luckily in the store it became obvious that the battery compartment catch was too flimsy, and just wouldn't latch correctly. In the car park we made a temporary repair with duct tape, but alas it won't last. Too many controls on the camera are in the way of where we need the tape to stick.

Jean drove the 200 km along the Victoria Highway to Victora River Crossing, in the eastern (Victoria River) section of Gregory National Park (13,000 sq km). We stopped pretty frequently to take landscape photos, however many of the better spots were where pulling over was a problem. The landscape changed from flat to weathered hills and plateaus, all much greener and lush than we had expected. Some of the rivers still even had water in them.

We stopped early for the day, at the roadhouse at Victoria River Crossing (14274 km, latitude 15.37S, longitude 131.08E), now apparently under new management (well, it was new three years ago, but who needs to take signs down?) Had a nice chicken and salad sandwich lunch, and booked a room for the night. After a rest we went for a walk along an overgrown path down to the river. Obviously we didn't go in the water, as saltwater crocodiles might like a meal. Victoria River is one of the longest rivers in the Northern Territory.

Our next walk was down the highway to the bridge across the river, where the water was about eight metres below the roadway. We noticed flood depth signs all the way back along the road to the roadhouse, where the flood depth sign showed the 26 metre level.

We hoped morning will bring better lighting on some of the surrounding cliff walls, and indeed it did.

Day 14, Victoria River Crossing to Timber Creek, Friday 18 June 2004

Leaving Victoria River Crossing, 14274 km, latitude 15.37S, longitude 131.08E.

No hot water in the morning. Indeed, no water at all from the hot taps. I was not impressed. Still, there were some nice views of the cliffs in the morning.

We drove to the river to see where the boat tours leave from. The last of the track looked a bit too rough. We also located the Gregory National Park escarpment walk access point. Next we went down a rough trail to the old road crossing for a walk plus photos of the original low level crossing where the river is very shallow. We could see lots of Telecom signs from where communication cables were run. Our next stop along the Victoria Highway in the Gregory National Park area was the Joe Creek walk area, which gave a very different view of cliffs.

About 57 km down the road was Kuwang lookout, showing the Aboriginal names given to various parts of the distant escarpment.

We reached Timber Creek (pop 300, latitude 15.40S, longitude 130.29E) in time for lunch. This is a small township within what is now the lands of the Ngaliwurru and Nangali people, after a 1984 land claim. I still hadn't recovered from my cold, so I wasn't paying attention to much. We booked a room anyway, because Jean had a good signal on her cell phone, and could collect her email from here.

The major tourism things seem to be scenic flights and boat tours, crocodiles, plus ever present barramundi fishing. Some of the scenic flights seemed good value, with a very reasonable Bungle Bungles and Argyle Mine flight by Northern Air Charter at under $300.

Explorer Augustus Gregory named Timber Creek in 1855, when he stopped to repair his boat with local timber. The town was however just known as the Depot in early days, when it was a distribution point for supplies shipped in for remote cattle stations.

We took a Heritage walk later in the afternoon, on a trail devised by the local community, the NT tourist commission, and the parks and wildlife commission. It was warm out, and there wasn't a lot of interest happening on that walk given the distance involved. More suited to the young and fit than to more sedentary types. I figured we could reach much of it by car at some stage.

Jean managed to find a good lunch, but I didn't feel like eating anything. I mentioned that Jean had managed to get a decent hamburger for lunch. She wanted to try a different establishment (there are two in town), and set off to bring dinner back to the room. I got a poor meat substitute in my dinner hamburger, unlike the good one she had for lunch. Same cook, working at two different establishment (both hotels, and both caravan parks in town appear to be owned by the same people). I thought Jean avoided any food problems for herself by getting a barra burger. Jean however says her barra burger wasn't much better than my hamburger.

Day 15, Timber Creek to Kununurra, Saturday 19 June 2004

Leaving Timber Creek, N.T. latitude 15.40S, longitude 130.29E.

I was still not well, but feeling better than I had for most of the week.

We set off from Timber Creek for the Heritage Trail, where we were able to inspect the old police station from 1908, now a museum. From 1898, Constable O'Keffe was basically camped in a bough hut, so I'd imagine the permanent station was a great advance. A replacement police station was built on stilts in 1935, and both are preserved as historic buildings. Nearby were graves and a very enlightened comment about the wake.

We continued six km west of town to the turnoff to various lookouts above the river, giving a spectacular view of the countryside. One included a humorous and cynical poem from WWII. Further along was a lookout showing the entire town. A monument celebrated the activities of the Nackeroos, the North Australian Observer Unit, a horseback force in the outback in WWII. The road in to the lookouts was much better than we expected, with most of the uphill sections fully paved under a Federal and local road scheme. One feature I found fascinating was the orange coloured trees in this area. I have no idea of the species, and have not seen them anywhere else.

Further along the main road we came to an impressive military bridge across the river. Although the road was closed, this led to a defence firing range on what was probably once Bradshaw station.

We diverted 16 km west of Timber Creek to view the Gregory Tree, a boab vandalised by carving in 1855-56 by Augustus Gregory, one of the better Australian explorers (he didn't kill himself while exploring). This was a permanent camp for Gregory's expedition, and is situated on the banks of the creek. Like most of the previous tourist sites, it is in Gregory National Park.

I must mention one of the niche businesses we noted. This was Gibb River Express, who run a three times a week in each direction transit service (in the dry season) over the Gibb River Road from Kununurra to Derby, with the 700 km trip taking about 12 hours. The bus naturally enough is a robust four wheel drive vehicle, since anything less can't handle the road conditions. In the wet season, nothing goes over the road!

Entry to the Keep River National Park (750 sq km) was to the north, just 3 km before the N.T. and W.A. border. Formed gravel roads with (alas) the usual corrugations make for reasonable dry season entry by conventional cars. The drive in was about 25 km of dirt road. There are picnic tables and pit toilets in the park. The park is in the tribal lands of the Mirriwung and Gadjerong people, and includes a Nganalam (cockatoo dreaming) tribal art site of around 2500 drawings, as well as secret sacred sites to which entry is not permitted. There are several Aboriginal communities within the park boundaries.

We went for a walk in the Keep River gorge, and the late rain had left some pools of water in the gorge floor. You wouldn't want to go swimming even in the river, due to crocodiles. The Keep River National Park features a 250 million year old Palaeozoic volcanic landscape, as well as limestone cliffs. Boabs trees dot the landscape and march up steep hillsides like lonely sentinels.

At the West Australian border we encountered plant quarantine. We had previously either used up or discarded all our fruit and vegetables, and discarded our remaining honey. We weren't likely to have anything else of interest to the quarantine authorities.

It was interesting to note that just after the border we encountered gently rising country. Where we had previously had scenic plateau, now the landscape was seriously tilted and twisted, looking like a set of children's bricks in collision.

When further along the road, we diverted to Lake Argyle for a visit. The Ord River dam was an impressive 335 metres long, and 98 metres high. There was a wonderful picnic area below the dam, which was built as an impervious clay core, earth fill dam in 1972, rather than as the original concrete design. The construction cost was $22 million in 1972, and Ord irrigation area crop output is now $70 million a year. We took many photos of the dam, and the impressive Lake Argyle, which covers 1000 sq km. It is a bit of a pity so many interesting geological formations have disappeared under the waters of the largest constructed lake in the Southern hemisphere. Lake Argyle is so large that it is considered an inland sea, and is the eighth largest artificial lake in the world.

The small 30 megawatt hydro electric power station at Lake Argyle now also supplies the Ord River irrigation area support town of Kununurra, which we were surprised to learn had a population of around 7,000 people. The population of Kununurra approximately doubles during the tourist and fruit picking season. The same hydro electric plant supplies the Argyle diamond mine, and also Wyndham, from its 220 gigawatt hour annual output. These sites all used diesel power plants until relatively recently, although the hydro electric plant was installed when the dam was built.

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pop 6000, 14749 km, latitude 15.46S, longitude 128.44E.

It was about a 35 km drive back to the highway, and then another 35 km into Kununurra. We soon located the Hotel Kununurra. We were somewhat shocked by the room prices (around twice what the RAC accommodation guide suggested), but it was still almost the cheapest place in town, especially as we wanted phone access. Jean negotiated a bit of a discount with Sa, the very active receptionist, who also seemed to organising part of the dinner area and the Zebra Rock bar. The name gave me pause. I hate rock music. However it turned out to have an entirely different meaning.

Jean had a great dinner barramundi, while I couldn't manage more than soup. We did manage to get a very nice Evans and Tate chardonnay to go with the meal. Our plans for a possible (cheap) air tour on Sunday fell through.

I took a walk after dinner through some of town business centre. In the dark a loud looming drunk startled me, and I loomed right back. This distracted me from discovering there actually was a Coles store open in the tiny mall.

Day 16, Kununurra, Sunday 20 June 2004

We took a long walk through lots of the business area. There were many signs that outback tourism was a major activity of the town.

We visited the extensive and helpful Kununurra Visitors Centre tourist information area in the Kimberley Tourism House building, and were able to get details of more areas to see.

In part of the same building was the local Telecentre network. This community owned and operated internet access area was originally state government funded around 11 years ago, with a $30,000 startup grant, and is one of nearly 100 in West Australia. Funding from the West Australian Department of Local Government and Regional Development is only given to communities that have sufficient enthusiasts who want to do this sort of work, and also have a plan of how they will maintain the facilities. The government department provides the network connection, however the community has to fund the computers and their replacements, and also provide the space to accommodate the centre. As each Telecentre is autonomous, the facilities and rules vary considerably in each community. For example, this one had space for you to use your own laptop with a network connection. It also had a service to burn digital photos to a CD. Whatever the services available, all Telecentres co-operate in solving problems faced in common, by use of internal forums.

I was much more impressed by the attitude of the Telecentre co-ordinator here in Kununurra than I was by the internet access at the Rural Transaction Centre in Mataranka in the Northern Territory. There they were afraid of computers, and couldn't imagine allowing travellers to connect to the network. This made the Mataranka system of little use except perhaps for looking at web pages.

This being a major town, it had a newsagent, and the newsagent was open. However newspapers arrive midmorning the day after their cover date. This is distinctly better than no newspaper at all, so were able to get the Weekend Australian

Found the Coles entrance finally, and since it was open seven days, we restocked our food box. We also got a takeaway lunch.

We took a drive around the extensive flat Ord River irrigation area surrounding the town, set up in the 1970s. Kununurra (a local Aboriginal term said to mean meeting of big waters) is the service town set up in 1958 and gazetted in 1961 for the area before the irrigation area was established. It is thus one of the newest towns in West Australia, and is fairly large, with a population of around 7,000.

We went out Ivanhoe Road, then diverted a short distance along River Farm Road to Barra Barra and Top Rockz. Then back to Ivanhoe Road past many crops, including sugar cane, to Ivanhoe Crossing, where the water flows freely over the causeway. Next was an unnamed road past the Melon Farm.

We visited The Hoochery rum distillery outside Kununurra on Weaber Plains Road. This is the only pot still rum distillery in W.A. They make their rum from Ord River sugar cane molasses, using wet season rainwater. This isn't a large operation. The labels were even originally hand signed (they said they found 1000 labels a week a bit of a chore, and now use a rubber stamp). After sampling their two year oak barrel matured rum and the less mature cane spirit, we bought a bottle of their Ord River Rum to use with mixers, and then didn't mix it. This is the finest Australian sipping rum we have ever tasted! Not as flavourful and forceful as the somewhat harsh Bundaberg, but with lots more flavour than the too genteel Beenleigh.

Back to town past the small sugar mill (I estimate a half million tons a season) and on out past Diversion Dam and Packsaddlers Road to Zebra Rock gallery. This was a wonderful place for rockhounds. The soft 600 million year old striped zebra rock is unique to small reefs of stratified shale in a pastoral area near Kununurra. The stone is a fine grained siliceous argillite siltstone, in which the red bands or spots are coloured by ferric oxide. We bought a bag of samples, to turn into paperweights (about the only extra item we can allow into our apartment). The open air workshop lets you see exactly how the stone is worked.

Sunday was roast night at our hotel, so we had roast lamb with local vegetables. Cooking quality was a bit amateur hour, but it still tasted OK to me.

Day 17, Kununurra, Monday 21 June 2004

Jean left at 8:30 for a light plane flight to view Mitchell Falls and the Mitchell Plateau. She had a stop at Drysdale station. I guess Jean better add something to these notes.

Her tour was with Kerry and Pat Slingby's Slingair, one of the most successful W.A. air tour operators, a family company now running 50 aircraft from their base at Kununurra airport.

I still had a cold, and stayed behind to do our laundry. I took some photos around town, looked at Argyle diamonds, did some shopping, dumped surplus books we had read in the free book bin at the Telecentre, and (probably to Jean's disgust) discovered Boab Books so I could restock. There are a number of Aboriginal art outlets, including Red Rock Gallery in Coolibah Drive.

We got takeaway salads for dinner, and then spoiled our economy by visiting the hotel bottle shop for another bottle of the Evans and Tate (it did however last us two nights this time). Of course, we did have the Hoochery rum to supplement the wine.

Day 18, Kununurra, Tuesday 22 June 2004

Jean had to work on her books, doing appendices for her book about online help somewhat in advance of the publisher's deadlines. The rest of the book is complete, but we fear too many deadlines crowding in on her at one time now that there is also the O'Reilly OpenOffice Writer book to complete.

We picked up a packed lunch at the Coles complex, and drove to the tiny 2,068 hectare Mirima National Park, the entrance to whose Hidden Valley section was within walking distance of town, and only a kilometre from the Victoria Highway. The name Mirima was given to the area by the Miriwoong people of East Kimberley. Although less clear, some of the rocks have some of the same characteristic black and gold bands as the Bungle Bungles, and have led to some claiming the area is a miniature Bungle Bungle park.

Hidden Valley had some stunning rock and sandstone cliff views for such a small park. I actually ran my camera batteries flat taking photos. We did the 800 metre Derdbe-gerring banan lookout hike to the top of the escarpment. As well as the colourful cliffs, we also had a view over Kununurra and over part of the Ord Valley irrigation area. We returned via the short trail that showed and described many of the plants of the area. We also did the easy 500 metre Demboong banan gap valley floor walk. We didn't spot any of the rock wallaby or wallaroo that live in the park, but did come upon an interesting looking lizard. Take plenty of film to this compact park.

Our next stop was a return visit to the The Hoochery rum distillery where we were this time able to take their fine tour. It was interesting to see the modern, stainless steel approach to what is actually a very traditional craft. Rum can be a fairly high turnover product, since it matures only for two years. A working family farm, their other spirit products are Cane Royale chocolate and coffee liquor, and Aguardiente, an attractive Australian ouzo produced from their farm grown aniseed.

We completed our visit by sampling their fine chocolate rum cake and rum flavoured cream. Very nice it was too, and a more than suitable substitute for the Devonshire tea I'd desired.

Reversing the direction we drove on Sunday, we visited Top Rockz for a better looks at their collection of local semiprecious stones. As with Zebra, it was pretty neat. They didn't however offer the chance of seeing the actual open air workshop of Zebra.

Day 19, Kununurra, Wednesday 23 June 2004

I spent much of the early morning organising and annotating the 532 photos I've taken to date on the trip. I'm very thankful that Apple included some organising features in their iPhoto film viewing package, although it could do with a more robust and flexible search feature.

We were collected from the Hotel Kununurra around 10 by our Slingair pilot Benn. The bus also stopped at Kona Lakeside caravan park to collect another couple, who had forgotten their video camera. We waited for them to collect it. They said Kona was a very nice park.

As we took off, our air tour in a Cessna 207 with Slingair today from Kununurra airport gave views of the 1963 Diversion Dam which formed Kununurra Lake, just outside Kununurra. The Ord River construction scheme started in 1958. There was an experimental government farm in the area in 1941, and Kimberley Durack, grandson of the pioneering family, was instrumental in getting that established. In 1946, the Kimberley Research Station (renamed Frank Wise Institute in 1985, after the agricultural advisor who examined the area in 1928, and became West Australian premier in 1945) was established on Ivanhoe Plain. The 15,000 hectares of the Ord River irrigation area spread all about us. By 2010 the irrigated areas will extend to nearly 65,000 hectares.

We saw areas like the market gardens on Packsaddle Plains clearly from the air, whereas when we drove there we could not really see how extensive they were. The area supplies about 40% of the rockmelons in Australia. We also saw sugarcane, bananas and mangoes. The Ord earlier grew rice, cotton and sorghum. Birds got the rice and and to some extent the sorghum, and insecticide resistant pests killed off cotton crops by 1974. Around 480,000 tons of sugar cane is now grown annually. Much of the vegetable and fruit is out of season in other areas when it is grown, and thus commands premium prices.

We flew a short distance for views of the extensive Lake Argyle, largest artificial lake in the Southern hemisphere (8th largest worldwide), and the Carr Boyd range in which it is set. Lake Argyle was created because the storage capacity of Lake Kununurra was insufficient for the planned agricultural activity of the Ord River area. In contrast, Lake Argyle could irrigate the region for several years even if no more rain fell. The lake filled to capacity in 1973, and the spillway flowed until 1984. Since then wet season rainfall has been insufficient to bring the lake above its design capacity of ten times the volume in Sydney Harbour. The normal area of the lake is 980 square kilometres, holding 5672 million cubic metres. The flood surface area is 2072 square kilometres, holding six time the normal capacity, or 34655 million cubic metres of water.

We had a clear view of Spillway Creek, the overflow for the lake. We also got an excellent view of the actual dam, some 8 km away from Spillway Creek. We could see the old Durack family Argyle Downs homestead, moved in 1971 from its original position in what is now lake bed. We could also see the Lake Argyle tourist village, which was originally the dam construction site village.

We landed at the excellent airfield at Rio Tinto's Argyle diamond mine, which commenced in 1983, with the plant complete in December 1985. We were initially astonished at the quality of the work facilities for staff. The 750 staff mostly work 12 hour shifts for two weeks, and then face one of the longest commutes in the world, 3200 km back to Perth on a Boeing 727, for their two weeks off. They are housed in individual motel style units with full facilities. They also have an impresive safety record, especially for such a large operation. We had lunch in their mess hall, and had a fine cafeteria meal, better than any similar meals we have encountered so far on this trip. I was most impressed, especially when I even managed to get ice cream.

The mine tour was mostly within the bus, as security at the mine do not want people walking around looking for rough diamonds. Our Slingair driver Chris explained the process.

The ore body is 1.6 kilometres long, 250 metres wide, and covers 80 hectares. It is presently operated as an open pit mine. First remove 80 millions tons of rock covering a year by blasting it out in 3000 ton chunks using anfo explosive. Excavators eat at the blasted rock in 45 ton bites, and then haul it 2.5 kilometres away to the main crusher plant in 200 ton dump trucks. From this is extracted ten million tons of the black lamproite diamond bearing ore. That is crushed, scrubbed and screened down in size with various massive stages of crushing, until everything is between certain sizes (I think they said 3 mm to 15 mm). This does mean a certain number of larger diamonds would be crushed.

Separate the rocks in a gravity settling tank, with an admixture of an easily identifiable middle density layer, and the denser stuff is what needs to be checked for diamonds. Traditional methods were a drum with a layer of fat, to which the diamond was intended to stick. Argyle couldn't get details of how to make that work, and instead use a cone over which the ore cascades down. An X-ray source make diamonds fluoresce. Photocells detect the glow, and compressed air jets automatically blast such specimens out of the falling rock. The ore goes through this sorting process three times, to ensure maximum return. The plant can process 11 million tons a year, and operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. From all this they extract 30-35 million carets (about 5-6 tonnes) of diamonds, mostly for industrial use.

We were shown the highly automated control room overlooking the plant. Lots of computer screens and closed circuit TV cameras (which are separate from the over 300 security cameras). The entire plant floor could be felt to be vibrating from the crushers.

After takeoff we overflew the massive Argyle diamond mine main pit and workings. This open-cut site is now almost exhausted, and is expected to run out in 2007. There is an experimental shaft deep under the site, as the mine tests to see whether deeper mining is justified.

Argyle are covering the exposed and mined areas with rock, and re-vegetating the entire area.

We flew off to view the 209,000 hectare Bungle Bungles (Purnululu) National Park. Partly due to the heavy tourist air traffic in the area, we don't get as low as we might like (2500 feet), but do clearly see and overfly the characteristic beehive domes. An alternative is to drive in to the Kurrjong or Walardi camping areas 50 km from a made road, if you have the time, but the 4WD track through Mabel Downs Station is reported to be very rough, and we got a good view from the air in any case. The remote Bungle Bungle massif has been part of the World Heritage listed (2003) Purnululu National Park since 1987. Prior to that it had aboriginal cultural significance to the Kija people, but was largely unknown to those outside the area. The Bungle Bungle name is said to be a corruption, referring to the Aboriginal name for local bundle bundle grass.

The range was formed from sand and gravel deposited 360 million years ago in the Devonian period by rivers flowing from the north east. Prevailing south easterly winds helped form sand dunes, and eventually forming sandstone. Sandstone seven kilometres deep was formed over 60 million years. Uplift and mountain building raised the sandstone into a flat surface 600 metres above the present sea level. Then erosion over the past 20 million years exposed the alternating several metre wide tiger stripes we see today. The dark bands where moisture was present contain cyanobacteria (blue green algae) which help protect the sandstone from erosion. The orange bands contain iron oxide, which also forms a protective film over the soft sandstone. The orange layers apparently dried out too quickly for the cyanobacteria to grow.

The park contains a number of unique plants, including the Livistonia or Fan Palm, seen clinging to crevices within the range. I also noted many boab trees, especially along water courses.

We flew past Echidna Chasm and the north west tip, got a good view of Horseshoe Valley before going over the Eastern Bungles. We saw Piccaninny Gorge and Deep Gorge, almost 800 feet of narrow vertical cliffs, and finally the western wall as we left. We had at least 20 minutes in the air over the range. On this trip I went through about 250 photos.

Rather than drive in (about four hours by 4WD), an easy way to see the park is to fly in, and take a local tour from the airstrip near one of the campsites. Walkers can't climb the beehive domes because the rock is very fragile. All walks are done in the stream beds.

During our return flight we overflew the Osmond range, Texasdowns cattle station (70,000 hectares), the abandoned Bow River alluvial diamond mine, on part of the Lissadell pastoral lease. Bow River used to get 20% gem diamonds, against 5% at Argyle. The Lissadell cattle station covers 200,000 hectares and supports 20,000 Brahman cattle. Operations mostly move to cooler areas during the wet, when you can't muster cattle in any case.

Other flying tours from Kununurra are run by Alligator Airways, who have operated in the area for around 20 years. It is pure chance who we took for our flight. Alligator do sponsor an environmental project at Kachana Station.

I got sent out late to locate a snack for dinner, and found cooked chicken at Coles.

Diamonds are an interesting industry, in that De Beers have had a monopoly of rough stones for over half a century. The diamond jewellery industry sells US$60 billion a year. De Beers (45% of the market) run the mines in Botswana (number 1), South Africa (number 4) and Namibia (number 7), and delivered stable incomes to the governments of these countries, which are among the richest and least unstable in Africa. Rivals in Russia (number 2), Canada (number 3) and Australia (number 8) such as Alrosa, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have been challenging De Beers over the last decade or so. The central clearing system has been holding prices high, and has been very secretive. The Kimberley Process is designed to ensure that governments issue certificates of origin for the diamonds they export, so diamonds can be tracked. The Congo was recently under fire for failing to prove the origin of diamonds.

Day 20, Kununurra to El Questro, Thursday 24 June 2004

Leaving Kununurra, 14879 km, latitude 15.46S, longitude 128.44E.

Settling our bill at the Hotel Kununurra took some time as the new staff didn't know how to set phone calls to BigPond for internet access to local calls. Luckily Sa was there to help train the receptionist.

We visited the post office to post our mail out. Calendars to the USA, plus zebra stone sample wrapped in neoprene beer coolers. Jean somehow lost her sunglasses, but luckily we eventually found them back in the post office.

Then we were finally off on the Great Northern Highway, which leads towards Wyndham.

We took some photos at a rest area near the turnoff to Halls Creek, that we would later need to return to.

Emma Gorge Resort, El Questro Wilderness Park

Latitude 15.55S, longitude 128.08E.

About 60 km north of Kununurra we turned off the Great Northern Highway onto the Gibb River Road for El Questro, a private pastoral lease wilderness park of around a million acres owned by Will and Celia Burrell. This was established around 1991 when the Burrell's bought 400,000 hectares of failing cattle station land along the Gibb River Road. El Questro extends some 80 kilometres, and includes parts of four river systems.

The name El Questro is said to have come from the original owners after a hard night of drinking prior to registering the property. They had a Spanish name, devised by a Spanish speaker, and intended to describe the countryside. Not being able to recall that name in the morning, they came up with a name that sounds Spanish, but means nothing.

El Questro has a range of facilities that range from the fully conducted tours and luxury to camping. The Homestead on the Chamberlain River takes only 12 guests, and prices range from $800 per person up.

The 25 km section of the Gibb River Road leading to El Questro at least was well formed gravel, admittedly with some corrugations when we were there. As with any road in the tropical north not rated as all weather, road conditions can change dramatically over a remarkably short time. Tour drivers tell us that buses are getting through.

The Emma Gorge resort in the Cockburn ranges was only a few kilometres off the Gibb River Road, just past a dirt airstrip that terminated at the road. The trail continued, and it had a minor water hazard where you cross the creek.

We booked into a shared facilities cabin (raised solid floor, short walls, and a tent roof), the last one still available. Emma Gorge is a new resort in El Questro, and it ranges from $135 to $220 a night for a room. The resorts in El Questro are managed by Accor.

As soon as we had collected maps and unpacked a few things we drove off again to explore the area.

It was about 11 km further along the Gibb River Road to the trail turnoff to the Station Township, with a well graded dirt road the whole way. There were a number of shallow stream crossings, with the only long water hazard the Pentecost River about 16 km along, just prior to Station Township. We had lunch there, just take away sandwiches and fruit juice, which cost $17. Little here is cheap, as is common in remote areas where transport costs can be a major concern. We noticed helicopter tours leaving from just in front of the station. There is bungalow accommodation with private facilities here at around $220. A very small store adjoints the Swinging Arm Bar, which has live entertainment on some evenings. The Steakhouse Restaurant has a fine menu. Riverside camping is available nearby, plus there are private camping sites spread out over 6 km of the Pentecost River bank.

We continued along the dirt road past the airstrip and past private camping areas along the river to Chamberlain Gorge. A bit of a steep descent, but great views from the jetty on Chamberlain River. A boat is certainly the best way to see the gorge, and the resorts can organise one for you. There is rock art at a end of the boat trip, and you can also arrange barramundi fishing. Other activities include horse riding, however about 21 different guided tours are offered. Luckily none of the 7,000 crossbred Brahman cattle on the property are very near the tourist facilities, which doubtless helps cut down blowfly problems in tourist areas.

From one spot on this trail you can see the Homestead, situated in an isolated spot on the Chamberlain River.

Back via Station Township, with a stop for an ice cream, and back across the very shallow Pentecost River again.

We got back to our tented cabin, found our Hoochery Ord River rum, and settled down for a quiet drink and to read our books in the rapidly waning, tree filtered sunlight. Lots of bird life appeared around us in this bush setting. Luckily there were not many insects at this time of year. The electric light in the tent is yellow anti-insect, but don't give all that much light for reading inside. By then we had unpacked our own battery fluorescent light, so we could have read.

When we checked at the restaurant, we found that they had several bus tours staying that evening. In fact, we were the only two regular guests. So they didn't really want to cope with an al la carte dinner for us (their chef was assisting at one of the other restaurants). They asked if we would consider the buffet dinner they were doing for one of the tour groups. That was actually better for me, and Jean was also happy with it. They also gave us a pretty reasonable price, considering the buffet included dessert.

In the parking lot I noted an Outback Spirit high chassis bus (I'm always interested in spirits in the outback). This was one of the bus tours with whom we were sharing the Emma Gorge resort. They were on a 12 or 13 day Darwin to Broome trip, with the bus driving in to places like the Bungle Bungles (4 hours for the 60 kilometres of dirt road once they left the highway). We noticed that all these adventure tours (which we thought would contain youthful backpackers) seemed packed with people our own age, many of them obviously bringing along a surviving parent of even greater age! They seemed to be in high spirits.

We celebrated with pre-dinner glasses of a Conti cabernet sauvignon and a Leaping Lizard shiraz. Both Margaret River, both very tasty. The buffet was splendid, and as we went through after the tour group, I overate (there was plenty left). Barramundi with a lemon and something sauce, a nice little exceedingly tender Kimberley beef steak, tasty fat free sausages, lots of vegetables, plentiful salads, cheese platter, fresh fruit, desserts, chocolate cake, fresh baked bread, the food just kept appearing. Jean attacked the whipped cream and custard and jello and fruit dish (we don't know its name) twice. Actually, I overate something fierce.

Day 21, Emma Gorge, Friday 25 June 2004

A great buffet breakfast, where I astonished Jean with how much of my favourite foods I could put away. I did groan a lot for a long time afterwards. The quality of the food was astonishing. Sausages that were almost fat free, to go with the bacon and scrambled eggs (or perhaps pseudo eggs) and tomato and baked beans. Many varieties of cereals. Delicious fresh tasting fruits. Grapes the size of plums. Hot chocolate drinks. Fruit juice. The staff were all exceedingly helpful. I overate again.

Drive about 20 km to Zebedee Springs, which was named by Will Burrell after a character in The Magic Roundabout, a children's TV show. After a fairly easy (yellow) walk in through tropical vegetation, we came to a thermal spring set among towering cliffs, with livistonia palms around. Jean sat in the warm water for a considerable time. The springs are only open to visitors from 6 a.m. until midday.

We headed a further 25 km along the Gibb River Road to the Pentecost River crossing. I waded across the clear water above the shallow causeway, naturally keeping a very careful eye out for crocodiles (no swimming in this river), so I could photograph Jean driving the Subaru across the river against the backdrop of the Kimberleys.

Splendid views of the walls in the sunlight as we returned, so we stopped often for photographs.

We collapsed on our return, despite not having walked very far.

I quote. Walking trails in El Questro vary from rugged to challenging and difficult.

Many of the trails are rated blue, and are difficult for older people. For example, Emma Gorge has large boulders, and the guide warns you will need to use both your arms and your legs to negotiate many sections of the walk. Other sections have steep and slippery boulders. It is suitable only for fit and able walkers, and not after 2 p.m. El Questro Gorge longer walk is rated as very difficult and challenging, including climbing large boulders. It must not be attempted after 1 p.m. and only by physically fit and capable walkers.

I went off around 4 p.m. to do their easy green trail nature walk, with 31 plants or trees marked. This took only about 20 minutes, and apart from a creek crossing, is all level.

I returned from the nature walk seeking sunset views, which I thought were from the other cabin area. Couldn't find Jean at our tent, nor in the other area. Soon after I gave up and returned to the tent, Jean arrived. She had been at the entrance to the resort, waiting for me.

We visited Boab Gully seeking sunset views, however the walk is very rocky along the shaded creek bed, and although there are numerous boabs, we didn't see a suitable spot from which to view the sunset. Also, it takes long enough that returning at dusk would be dangerous. This is marked as a yellow trail.

I was too full (from dinner the previous night, and breakfast) to try the fine al la carte dinner selection (I had also skipped lunch). We did have a glass of Leaping Lizard cabernet sauvignon and shiraz that evening. They were fine Margaret River wines.

Jean recovered her appetite later in the evening, and had kangaroo for her evening meal. The chef at the Homestead, Marcus van Clute, formerly of the Como Hotel in Melbourne, appears to supervise what is available at the other restaurants. I asked the chef how they managed to prepare tender kangaroo (it normally isn't a meat I think of as tender), and was told they marinated it in milk for 24 hours before cooking. I have to mention that all the El Questro restaurant food I tried was of excellent quality. This particularly appeared in little things, where we were not dining al la carte. The sausages were almost fat free, lightly spiced, and very tasty. The barbecue steak was the best I've had on this trip. The fresh fruit at breakfast was superb, not something that is easy to manage in remote areas. This sort of quality doesn't happen by accident, especially when it appears in buffet style meals.

Day 22, Emma Gorge to Halls Creek, via Wyndham, Saturday 26 June 2004

Leaving Emma Gorge, 15133 km, latitude 15.55S, longitude 128.08E.

We drove off in the very early morning, before breakfast. We carry breakfast cereal, but we couldn't get milk in the park, and unlike most accommodation in Australia, didn't have a fridge in the tented cabin.

So, back over the Gibb River Road 25 km to the Great Northern Highway, then 50 km further north to Wyndham (pop 1000, 15222 km). It was very obviously low tide, and so you could see extensive tidal flats, and a wide range of mosquitos.

Despite the port town not being all that large, we counted no less than four cemeteries. The Afghan cemetery dating from the 1890's camel drivers. The Pioneer cemetery from 1886 to 1922, which covered the meatworks period. The Gully cemetery from 1922 to 1968, plus the present cemetery. I guess it was an unhealthy place to be in the early days.

Being on the coast, Wyndham was visited early by Europeans, with the first landing at View Hill in 1819. However the port was not established until 1885, and named by John Forrest after Lady Barker's (wife of Sir Frederick Napier Broome, governor of West Australia) eldest son. Gold discoveries at Halls Creek in 1884, and development of cattle stations by the Duraks in the 1880's helped push the population up to a peak of 5,000, but by 1906 it was down to 50 Europeans. The port is now used for live cattle transport, export of live goats, and export of Ord River sugar to Indonesia. The population of about 1200 is about half Aboriginal.

Just near the modern and extensive police station, we found the town hotel, where we got a filling cooked breakfast, but not near as much as we would have eaten had we attempted another El Questro meal. The person on duty told us they were very busy with tourists, and had 14 breakfasts that morning.

When I paid our breakfast bill, I was told that the community club we had passed on the way into Wyndham had been broken into 14 times in that number of weeks. There had been a slight delay in entering the bar area to pay, as the owner taken to keeping his two bull mastiff dogs in the bar area overnight. They hadn't had any break ins. Being next door to the police station may have helped also.

Our main purpose in driving all the way to Wyndham (apart from breakfast) was to refuel, it being a slightly shorter distance from El Questro than back to Kununurra.

Before we left town, we stopped to again take photographs of Jean with large animals. This time a 20 metre crocodile made from 5.5 km of steel rod, weldec with 50 kg of welding rod, lots of bird mesh, and covered with 5 cubic metres of concrete.

We decided not to visit Parry Lagoon Nature Reserve, on a dirt road, starting some 15 km south of Wyndham. Marlgu billabong is reported to be a great bird watching spot, with boardwalk and some hides near the car park, but we really aren't bird watchers. The nearby Parry Creek Farm offers private cabins and rooms, and specialises in powered sites for caravans and campers by a billabong.

However there were a few sights we couldn't resist, like a location along the main road marked as good for photographs of the ranges.

We stopped about 40 km along the Great Northern Highway to go the few kilometres to the Grotto. This is a large sinkhole in rocky country leading down to a deep waterhole. Apart from the views from the top, there are around 100 steps built in the rocks to assist in reaching the mostly shaded bottom.

It was about 60 km south from Wyndham to the Broome turnoff on the Great Northern Highway. We did lots of fast kilometres on this good road.

We stopped at Doon Doon road house (15344 km), where they are busy building an amenity block for a caravan park, and hope to someday include motel units. I couldn't resist an icecream. We again saw the retired bicyclist we had seen at Victoria River Crossing some considerable time before. He was from Townsville, and was headed for Broome and Perth. He told of being stuck by the road for several hours with a broken wheel, and with his tools being unable to shift his gear cluster so he could make repairs. He ended up staying at a caravan park in Kununurra for several days, even after the local garage used an air tool to undo his gear cluster so he could repair his wheel.

We next stopped at the Turkey Creek roadhouse, where there were artistic drawings on the rocks outside the roadhouse. To my considerable amusement, the Turkey Creek roadhouse has game burgers with crocodile, emu, kangaroo, camel, but no turkey! You can take helicopter flights to the Bungle Bungles from here. This area is the site of the Warmun aboriginal community, who have an art centre open to visitors.

At Leicester's Rest, 100 km from Halls Creek, there was a 24 hour stopover area, which had pit loos and lots of isolated camping areas. Although there are no other facilities, this is for 24 hour stops by self contained caravans and campers. It was on what appeared to be the old highway, and was close to some pleasant looking river areas.

We reached Halls Creek (pop 4000, 15603 km, latitude 18.13S, 127.40E) around 3 p.m. The Comfort Inn motel on a side street looked somewhat the worse for wear, with a broken sign, and large savage looking fences. We thought it might even be derelict, but a lot of other places were stoutly barricaded and appeared very thoroughly locked up. We went back to the main street, and took a room at a Best Western.

Not much food to be found in Halls Creek when we arrived mid afternoon on a Saturday. The various supermarkets were mostly closed. Some that were open, like the Coles Express at the Shell garage, had a range you could fit inside a Volkswagon. I got milk and orange juice for the morning at a garage store.

I talked to a long distance woman cyclist, around our age, who was seeking a public phone that would accept an 800 number (public phones are not always easy to locate in these towns). She had set out from Gympie in south east Queensland last year, and gotten a job and stayed over in Alice Springs when the weather got too hot. She had set off again in May this year, and was headed for Broome. I'm collecting examples of these cyclists so I can email details to Erika, who is also considering a long bicycle trip.

We had a splendid dinner at the motel at Halls Creek. Great steak, with the best meat we have had this trip (except at El Questro), excellent correctly cooked vegetables, and I really enjoyed my potato wedges. Plus a cleanskin cabernet merlot at a very reasonable $4 a glass price. We liked it so much we bought a $15 one litre bottle for Ron (late 'R on). Jean apparently hadn't heard that expression previously.

Jean was able to collect her email via her CDMA cell phone, but again the motel had no phones in the rooms. To my considerable surprise I had a GSM cell phone connection in Halls Creek, so I imagine that technically I could also have collected email.

Day 23, Halls Creek, Sunday 27 June 2004

We decided we were taking a rest day, so Jean could catch up somewhat with her various book deadlines while we had a desk for the computers, and lots of power points. We also did laundry and similar catch up tasks, like expanding these notes. Luckily our walking around the town didn't include buying apple pies from the bakery, but did we each had a slice of pizza for lunch, instead of something sensible. When I returned to the bakery just prior to them closing at 1 p.m., they were out of apple pies, so we were saved from ourselves. Mind you, we later went out to the Coles Express service station and bought a Magnum chocolate obsession ice cream each, which rather ruined our show of self restraint. I noted bonus FlyBuys points for Magnum ice creams, so I produced my card. I've never seen much visible advertising for bonus points, so I guess this is a result of Coles trying to expand their rather new service station empire.

Day 24, Halls Creek to Fitzroy Crossing, Monday 28 June 2004

Leaving Halls Creek, 15603 km, latitude 18.13S, 127.40E.

Since my GSM cell phone worked in this town, I phoned Lea, who is staying at at our home, from the hotel car park. First time we had got through to her so far this trip. She reported on all the things she is tidying up at home. I hope we can find things again when we get home. We are not good at tidy. Mind you, I'm also not all that good at finding things I haven't tidied up.

We took Duncan Road, which rapidly became the 16 kilometre dirt road to Old Halls Creek, where scant remains of building sites are on both sides of the creek. In 1885, this was the site of the first gold mining town in West Australia. The old post office building is partly protected by a new roof, covering much the area of the old one, plus wire mesh to reduce vandalism. There is a small, antique appearing caravan park here, and even a restaurant, in an area for those seeking something off the main routes.

About six kilometres from town we diverted through a gate to another dirt road leading to the China Wall. This stretches over considerable lengths of the countryside, and the better examples look very like the ruins of an artificial wall, rather than a natural quartz vein formation.

We viewed various statues in Hall Creek upon our return. These included Russian Jack, who wheeled a companion in a wheelbarrow many kilometres to help.

Also in this area is the Yarliyil community based art centre, which originally opened in 1992 in a woman's safe house, but now has more space. Another local initiative at Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing is the Kimberley Language Resource Centre, which has worked since 1985 to preserve some indigenous languages. They produce interactive CDs about some traditional crafts, in some of the 30 original languages of the area (Nyikina, Katatja, Bunuba, Walmajarri, Kija

One thing I did miss doing was taking a scenic flight over the 850 metre wide 300,000 year old Wolfe Creek meteorite crater on the edge of the Tanami Desert. The Jaru and Walmajarri people know the crater as Gandimalal. The crater walls still extend 35 metres high, while the floor is 20 metres below the surrounding countryside, filled in by sand from its estimated 120 metre original depth. Driving there means a 132 km drive down the Tanami track, and we thought that would be a bit too rough for us. Oasis Air and Northwest Regional Airlines both have light plane flights.

Very helpful and talkative information centre staff at the tourist centre, who have an excellent kit of flyers prepared for visitors to the area. Being shortly before the end of the financial year, there were discounts on stuff. We got yet another stubby cooler for Jean.

Jean located a really nice eatery in the same building, and we get home made chicken salad rolls with home baked rolls. We needed to stock up because there are no roadhouses until the next town, and that was too far to reach before lunch.

The Telecentre is in the library, where much work is happening. They don't have a way to allow us to plug our laptops into their network, but would let us connect to a phone line. Except the phone lines are at present just bare wires!

I must mention that the toilets were the fully automated, singing variety with push button doors and integrated liquid soap, water and hot air dispenser over the wash basin. We had encountered these before at Ayr (a country town 200 km north of our home), and also in that cultural centre for high tech, San Jose in Silicon Valley. However the San Jose one didn't sing, and I had to feed it a quarter (dollar) before it would open its door.

We refuelled at the Shell (Coles Express), and I remembered to get FlyBuy points.

Good stretch of wide, well marked road as we headed for Fitzroy Crossing. There are no towns or roadhouses, only a few rest areas. We stopped at both of the rest areas, and had a half roll at each.

The Mary Pool rest area 110 km down the road (latitude 18.43S, longitude 126.52E) was beside the river, and was very pleasant looking. Caravans could stop for 24 hours, although the only facilities are pit toilets and barbecue areas.

Along the road we saw the woman bicyclist I had spoken to in Halls Creek. She was making a steady pace.

Ngumban Cliff rest area (15843 km) gave a wonderful view of the road and the surrounding countryside. It was less distant from Mary Pool than we had expected.

We had heard the town of Fitzroy Crossing (pop 1500, 15942 km, latitude 18.12S, longitude 125.34E) has one fancy and expensive resort with rooms overlooking the river, and one caravan park also overlooking the river, where the pub is popular with the aboriginal population.

We took a self contained cabin on stilts, set close by the Tarunda supermarket caravan park. High flood water here in town, hence the need to build things up off the ground. The room was comfortable enough, the beds especially, but had few convenient power points, the lights were not bright, and the room had nothing that could be effectively used as a typing table. We would love to have some way to carry a typing table for such situations. We are already forced to carry our own chairs.

To my surprise, we were able to get the Weekend Australian, plus a frozen microwave dinner for Jean before the supermarket closed at 5:30. I later went to the local Shell (now a Coles Express) service station to collect a sandwich for dinner. That was a busy place, for with the supermarket closed for the night, many locals were shopping. The one counter staff man was always dealing with two or three people at a time, and being cheerful about it all, even with people who didn't have sufficient mponey

We collapsed early, so I didn't write any notes up.

Day 25, Fitzroy Crossing to Derby, Tuesday 29 June 2004

We were up before 6 a.m., drove off 18 km (on what is now a paved road) to Geikie Gorge National Park (15942 km) a little after 7 a.m. on our earliest departure of the trip. This was for an 8 a.m. Conservation and Land Management (CALM) boat ride through the narrow rocky section of the Fitzroy River. There were eventually about 42 people on the flat bottom punts the ranger used, many of them from the various adventure tour buses that arrived. We noticed the Outback Spirit bus we saw at El Questro had arrived.

The flood height there through the ancient coral reefs is impressive. The cliffs showed white marks far above us, where wet season waters rushed and scoured the rocks clean each year. We were told the wet season current flow in the Fitzroy was second only to the Amazon. The rock walls are carved into fantastic shapes, and look like they should fall at any moment.

Usual crocodiles and birds. The crocodiles are (mostly harmless) freshwater types, as at over 300 kilometres from the sea, estuarine crocodiles have not been sighted.

We once again noted the Outback Spirit bus (12 day trip from Darwin), as these people were on the river punt tour with us. They must have been staying at the fancier resort overlooking the river.

There is also a more expensive half day Darngku (pronounced darn-goo) heritage trip, including walks. The stories about the gorge mostly come from Darngku family of the Bunuba tribe.

Back in town we sought the original Fitzroy Crossing location. Somewhat worse for wear, the Crossing Inn by the river, with aboriginal art all over the walls, seems near the original site. One chap there asked us the time, and not having watches, we guessed something after 9:30. We soon noticed a number of aboriginals, awaiting the 10 a.m. opening of the pub.

Jean reports this is the pub she saw on her 1979 Alice Springs, Tanami, Gibb River Road, to Darwin bus tour. Their tour vehicle was being worked on that day, so I gather they may have had a longer look than usual.

We visited the Pioneer cemetery by the riverside. This is so close to the river that I'm surprised it hadn't flooded at times. Some graves were marked with elaborate metal work made from old tools. We recognised animal traps on one, but couldn't identify the antique tools on another.

We too some photos from the present bridge to the town, since they showed the river size to good effect.

At the Shell (Coles Express) service station the very active and talkative female staff member was the only person serving a crowd only half the size of that on the previous night. When I paid for the fuel, she made sure I produced my FlyBuys card (I already had it out, having encountered a Coles Express at Halls Creek). She was also telling giving everyone about FlyBuys (which I imagine from the reactions must be a new concept in some country areas), and about the fuel discounts if you had a Coles store cash register receipt. Another staff member brought her a bunch of Coles cash register receipts, and she was using these to give fuel discounts to those of us who were getting fuel, and reminding us we could get our own discount receipts from the nearest Coles store (in Broome, well over 300 kilometres away).

We also got sandwiches to take with us for lunch, as there are no roadhouses before you go (the other way) past the turnoff to Derby. After gazing at them admiringly, Jean waited until my back was turned, and then quickly ordered a meat pie. I was impressed.

We took a few brief stops at rest areas during the drive. Our lunch stop was under an ancient boab tree, at the second rest area we encountered. The only facilities there were some picnic tables, and the shade of the enormous boab.

It seemed a long, boring drive to Derby (pop 5000, 16254 km, latitude 17.19S, longitude 123.39E). We booked into a fancy room (one with a phone) at tourist prices, at the King Sound resort hotel. Room facilities included a box of tissues (seconf time this trip), but no shampoo or any washing consumables apart from soap. The bathroom also lacked any hooks for clothes. Luckily we are used to this, and carry our own hooks to go over the door. This grand hotel alas lacks direct access from car to rooms, so we had to make several trips from the car carrying our various bags. We carry a tucker (food) box with our breakfast cereal and some plates and utensils, plus wine glasses and something with which to fill them in the evening. The computers and their bits and pieces take us another bag each.

Search for the Derby Visitor Centre, plainly marked on our map, but neither of us could see it despite signage. On the second pass we managed to park right in front of it, and get details of tide times for today and tomorrow. Derby has the second highest tides in the world, and on Wednesday, the times were right for seeing both the high and the low tide. It was also close to a full moon, which gives the best tide results (we were aiming to be in Broome on the night of the full moon). We are not sure we want to spend the money for an air flight over the Buccaneer Archipelago, and see the horizontal waterfall (where tides pile up behind a narrow gap in the cliffs).

We had asked the location of the news agency, so we asked the real character behind the news agency counter which day the Tuesday Australian would arrive. To our astonishment, she said Derby was the last place this far north where the papers arrived on their day of issue. She explained how she remonstrated with the delivery people. I could certainly see them being intimidated into making sure her delivery arrived on the right day. As the papers were due at 4 p.m. we decided to check the shop for books and magazines. I found some scientific magazines. Jean found some souvenirs. By the time we had selected these all, the papers had indeed arrived. Unfortunately the newsagent couldn't accept credit cards, so we had to use up some of our cash supply.

We were later amused to hear the newsagent arguing with a customer about it being cold (the customer said it wasn't). We asked. The newsagent thinks below 25C in the daytime is low, and below 15C at night is cold. She had been getting 13.6C on her veranda the previous night. We agreed that 13.6C is cold.

We crossed Clarendon Street to visit the Telecentre, which shared premises with a regular computer shop called RB69. They said we could connect our notebook computers to their network, for $9 an hour.

Back at the hotel, Jean started working on her computer, including getting her email. I thought she had used the hotel phone line, but she later said it didn't work, and she had therefore used her CDMA mobile phone to get email.

Jean researched the hotel menu, and dead upon the six o'clock opening we turned up with Jean seeking barramundi. No such luck. Today they had a bus group in, so they were serving a buffet meal. Wasn't a bad meal at all, just not what either of us had planned for.

At 6:30 the bus group arrived, and we recognised people from the Outback Spirit bus we had seen at El Questro, and Geikie Gorge. I also heard them as they prepared to leave between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. You wouldn't think a group of old people could wield fire axes with such enthusiasm at that hour. Mind you, good soundproofing is not a feature of this hotel. Jean slept through it all.

Day 26, Derby, Wednesday 30 June 2004

We both spent most of the morning on our computers, with Jean needing to catch up on her book revisions. I tried the hotel phone. No luck with my computer either. After I saw reception again they switched the phone through, and it worked correctly when I next tried it.

We visited the jetty and bulk lead and zinc ore loading facility, timing our visit just prior to midday for high tide. Muddy water, and a tide over 9 metres. We returned just before sunset to take comparison photos with the tide on the way down to the 3 metre mark.

There was a small botanical garden in the grounds of the local library. It seemed to have suffered somewhat since it was installed a few decades ago, and nothing was marked. The library seemed a pretty reasonable community resource, especially given how hard it sometimes is to get resources in any remote area.

There are reef flights over the Buccaneer Archipelago and the horizontal waterfall (a thirty metre gorge where the tide squeezes through at 30 knots) by Reef Flight and by King Leopold Air.

Day 27, Derby to Broome, Thursday 1 July 2004

After refuelling in Derby (16281 km) we visited the Boab Prison Tree and nearby artifacts from the early 20th Century like a water trough and windmill, a few kilometres outside Derby.

Then 40 km back to the Great Northern Highway, which continues through Broome towards the south.

Willare Bridge Roadhouse about 30 km from the Derby turnoff, had air conditioned rooms in the older style main building. Good prices, but with shared facilities. That was the first roadhouse we saw since Derby.

I should mention that all the way along the Great Northern Highway we kept encountering single lane bridges. First would come an 80 kph speed sign, then a warning that a single lane bridge was ahead, then a No passing or overtaking sign. Since only a bicycle could fit alongside a car, this was more like a law of nature than a road rule.

We stopped briefly at the Nillibubbica rest area, about 40 km past Willare Bridge. This is another rest area with pit loos, and picnic tables, but nothing much else. All set in vivid green bushland, showing the seasonal tropical rainfall of this close to coastal area.

We reached 5000 (16453) km travelled from home just before midday, still with 60 km to go to Broome. So that is the crossing from the Pacific Ocean to Indian Ocean.

We stopped at the Roebuck Plains roadhouse (16472 km), 30 km from Broome, on the Broome Highway, just past the turnoff to the south. Although we stopped to collect a few sandwiches for lunch (in case we were delayed locating an eating place in Broome itself), we again couldn't resist buying a Magnum chocolate addiction ice cream. Bad, bad!

The road into Broome (latitude 17.58S, longitude 122.14E) led us right past an extensive Broome visitor's centre. We stopped to check on maps and accommodation, the latter of which in the tourist season and with school holidays about to start was in rather short supply. After some confusion on the roads, we found ourselves at the Tropicana Inn, where we booked in for a week.

Across Robinson Street from the Tropicana Inn motel at which we stayed was a small Coles store. Very handy. Next to it was Pindar Blue, a nice looking cafe open from around 7 a.m. On the cultural side across the parking lot was the Broome museum. Just down the road was Town Beach, where there are weekend markets. The staircase to the moon (reflection of the moon) appears across the exposed mudflats on nights when the full moon corresponds with a very low tide. We had timed our visit to correspond with this event.

Broome, 2200 kilometres from Perth, is a spread out town, with a population of around 14,000 residents, a little over 4,000 of whom are indigenous. At this time of year there are usually well over 5,000 tourists in town. The town was originally a centre for pearling in the 1880, and pearling is still an important industry. The shire covers 56,000 square kilometres and extends north as far as Cape Leveque, and includes over 900 kilometres of coastline.

As we drove through Broome, we totally failed to locate a traffic light (although there were rather a lot of roundabouts). We see this as yet another reason why Airlie Beach should continue to resist traffic lights, if a larger town with heavy traffic doesn't need them.

After we settled into our room, Jean sent me to the nearby Coles to get preliminary groceries for our stay, and later we both visited the Coles Liquorland for wine. We got three bottles (perhaps a little more than we will need for our stay), so as to get another fuel discount voucher.

We walked up to Town Beach and caravan park, just to survey the location. By then it was dark, but we walked a little inland to a fast food place called Maccas for fish and chips for dinner. Service on grilled fish was a little slow, and Jean thought they were a bit overcooked. We shouldn't have ordered the chips, naturally, even with the excuse of being on holidays.

Day 28, Broome, Friday 2 July 2004

Jean needed to work on revising her books. I set off for a walk around the town.

Nearby was spacious and tidy Bedford Park, with memorial to war casualties, and to explorer William Dampier, and other early explorers of the coastline.

Across the road was Matso's cafe and brewery on Carnarvon Street, previously the Union Bank and then a general store. This is a classic older style building built in 1900. You can watch the brewery at work, and they brew ales as well as lagers. They did a Monsoonal Blonde wheat beer at 5.1% that Jean liked, their Pride of Blackwood bitter at 5.6% that I liked, Copperhead Kolsch ale at 5.5% which seemed a bit wimpy for an ale. They also had a very dangerous 3.5% brewed ginger beer that didn't taste alcoholic at all. We visited twice late in the afternoon so we could sample all their brews. Nice spot, apart from too many mosquitos.

Despite the hill, I walked up past some resort hotels built on sand dunes, and thus had better views of the bay.

The historic and small Old Cell Block building had been converted to an art gallery, and was showing an exhibition. The owner spoke of making access to working artists part of the features of the place, as they worked in the sunlit courtyard. He thought Broome would eventually develop two tourist areas, as Cable Beach became a resort and beach strip, with little connection to the old Chinatown and its pearling history.

There was a Cultured Pearling Monument, with statues of cultured pearl pioneers Tokuichi Kuribayashi, Hiroshi Iwaki and Keith Dureau. Just before I reached the statues I noted that the automated, singing toilet salesman had been through. This was right at the entrance to the revitalised and now very tourist oriented Chinatown area, where the Chinese influence is really minimal. The two street, two or three block area includes Paspaley Plaza, where there is a large Coles store and many other contemporary shops.

There were also a number of arcade and alleyways and the tiny Jimmy Chi lane lined with small shops. It was an interesting area, with many tourist trinket shops, and many tour booking places, just like at home in Airlie Beach. There were a surprising number of internet access places, perhaps a half dozen. I also found three bookshops or partial bookshops.

Upon my return to the motel, we had our usual chicken and whatever lunch at the Tropicana bar, since they had on hand suitable prepared rolls.

Back to Chinatown later that afternoon with Jean. I thought I had done enough walking for the day, but could at least guide her along easier routes.

We spent some time checking out Paspaley Plaza. Jean found the Country Target store I'd mentioned to her, and I think to the surprise of us both, was able to get replacement swimming costumes.

We looked briefly in the classic 1916 open air picture garden, with the old canvas deck chairs, at Sun Pictures. I think this is the oldest such open air cinema still operating in the world. I haven't seen many such places since I was a child, although there is one near us at Bowen.

We walked back to the motel past the Courthouse, a distinctive original Broome style building, formerly Cable House, back in the days when Broome was where the 1889 telegraphic cable went from Cable Beach to Java.

Early that evening we again checked Town Beach, although the moon rose too early to give the stairway effect. We still couldn't see anything of great interest at the fancy foreshore cafe. One interesting feature of a couple of foreshore areas were the steel poles, about power pole hight, with an open grid platform on top. These have been placed by the power company so that ospreys can build their nests on them, rather than on the more dangerous power poles. These are at the edge of roads and parking lots, so the birds wre very used to cars and humans being nearby.

As a result of not finding a meal on our walk, we had bits of stuff from Coles.

Day 29, Broome, Saturday 3 July 2004

Alas, there were widespread clouds in the morning. First time we have had many clouds since the Queensland coast nearly a month ago.

Jean as usual spent the morning typing.

We drove off across town past the crocodile farm to Cable Beach, named for the telegraph cable to Java, and its surrounds, timing our arrival for high tide. By now the morning clouds were mostly gone.

The way north was blocked by rocks at high tide, as some 4WD drivers discovered as they attempted to drive down the access ramp to the beach. We scrambled past them to check the much longer stretch of beach further north. Here there were cars parked on the beach, presumably stuck along there until the tide went down. It looked very much like a smaller, less crowded version of Florida's Daytona Beach.

Cable Beach, even at high tide, is a fine looking beach. There was a well organised, patrolled swimming area, with small waves. Further along, surfers were out on their boards, catching waves. Despite the tourist publicity it gets, there were not a real lot of people on the beach, compared to any capitol city beach.

As we walked back along the beach path, past the lifesaving club, and the food kiosk, we decided to buy some sandwiches for lunch.

We drove around the general area for a while, looking at a mixture of caravan parks, older homes on large blocks, motels and accommodation, and the start of construction on what seemed to be new resorts. The land is much flatter than back home at Airlie, and there don't appear to be the same rigid constraints on how much is available. I could see it ending up like a miniature, low rise Gold Coast.

Back at the motel, I did the laundry at about 1 p.m., and we hung it out on some lines the motel had provided. I'd intended doing that much earlier, since we were running out of clean clothes.

Jean sent me off to get milk and the weekend Australian newspaper from Coles. Across the dunes I could see something fluttering in a small dead scrub. This proved to be an osprey, trying to keep its balance while clutching a largish fish in the other talon. I was able to walk to within ten metres without it seeming to be worried. I rushed off to get Jean, but by the time we returned, the osprey had finished killing its fish and had flown off.

I didn't manage to get the newspaper. Coles reported the truck had broken down at Newman, and they weren't expecting the weekend papers until 6 p.m. This is still a lot better than most towns we have been in of late, where there are no newspapers at all.

Naturally, having hung out the laundry at 1 p.m., the clouds returned. By 4 p.m. I had to get in the laundry, for fear of rain. Some was dry, but about half I had to run through the motel dryer. This cloud was not a good sign for us seeing the moon rise.

We again walked down to Town Beach foreshore as it got dark. Moonrise was scheduled for about 6:30. There was an astonishingly large crowd gathered awaiting the view. I thought if we went a fair way along the beach we might get a good spot. Eventually we risked sandfly and mosquito bites by walking down on the sand.

The cloud cover was almost complete, with only a tiny clear band of sky on the horizon. You could sort of see the staircase effect for a few minutes, and it looked good to the eye. However it was way to dark for photographs without long exposures. Neither of us had a tripod, which might have given us a chance. I tried different camera settings, but only the time exposures gave me enough light, and I couldn't hold still for a multi-second exposure. Jean's Kodak camera has turned out to be much more fragile than my Pentax, but probably takes better images, especially in poor light conditions.

Naturally we checked out the Saturday Town Beach markets. These were much like at home at Airlie Beach. Perhaps a higher proportion of fortune tellers and counter culture crap, but I didn't see any of the fresh fruit and vegetable sellers that are our major reason for attending the local markets. There were a lot more prepared food stalls. Thai, Indonesian, bratwurst, and two home made ice cream stalls.

Day 30, Broome, Sunday 4 July 2004

Just before dawn I wandered off to Town Beach so I could see the sunrise over the exposed mudflats at low tide. Several other photographers were there. I was sort of hoping I could get a staircase effect in my photos, but again there was low cloud.

We did our major Coles shopping expedition at the big store in Chinatown today, getting supplies for the next stage down the coast, where store will be scarce and far between. Managed to get yet another fuel discount voucher, by counting the cost of what we bought until we had the required $30 of groceries.

Mostly we caught up on our notes, Jean typed her corrections, and we read our books. The low cloud made a lot of the tourist sites less attractive, and some places like museums were closed on Sunday. The tides were all wrong for others. We want to see cable Beach at low tide, for example, but it will be a few days before there is a low tide in decent daylight.

We did return to Town Beach that evening, when moonrise was expected at around 7:30. The crowds were nearly as large, and the markets about the same. We found a place to sit on the sand and waited, and waited. the only excitement was some kids flying a kite that had an LED flasher on it. Eventually it became obvious that cloud along the horizon would keep the moon invisible until it was rather high in the sky. We gave up, went and bought a bratwurst and some ice creams for dinner, and returned to the motel.

Day 31, Broome, Monday 5 July 2004

Jean continues hard at work correcting her books.

I visited the fascinating Broome Historical Society Museum. As well as an extensive range of paper records for the serious historian, it also gathers an fine range of items dating from the 19th Century through to items I (unfortunately) recall from my own childhood. I saw a switchboard for example just like the one at my old school (and doubtless obsolete even then). There is a lot of material from the war years, and even more from the pearly days.

We drove to Chinatown for lunch, and then wandered around the Johnny Chi lane historical walk, reading all the plaques. Jean spotted many typographical errors.

We also finally visited the Broome Telecentre, which had both phone line and Ethernet connections available for laptop users.

We got a decent view of the Stairway to the Moon, finally. Although moonrise was after 8:30 this evening, we were among the many people who again visited Town Beach to view the moon reflecting off the mudflats. At least some of our photographs show this surprising event. I'd really like to know who started using it as a tourist promotion.

Day 32, Broome, Tuesday 6 July 2004

We set out early for the tip of the peninsula on which Broome is situated. From the port area there we had some fine views back towards the old town. There are some fine rock formations at the entry to the beach here.

We continued along a dirt road mostly adjoining parkland, from which there were numerous 4WD and walking tracks to the beach. After what seemed like ten minutes of bumping along, we sighted the lighthouse, and a parking area.

We walked down the Lurujarri Heritage Trail tourist path past the lighthouse, noting an osprey had a nest on the platform below the lighthouse lens. At the end of the path was a replica of dinosaur footprint exposed at low tide at Gantheaume Point. Nearby is Anastasia's Pool, a rock pool made by a lighthouse keeper for his arthritic wife. Although the tide was reasonably low, we thought the scramble own for a close look was unwise. We did note a few younger people had managed to get down the rocks.

As well as the dinosaur print, there are some very pretty rock formations, some of which show the extent of the tidal variation (over 8 metres) in this area. There were also excellent views up Cable Beach.

As we had spotted an osprey nest a level below the light in the open steel frame lighthouse, we watched carefully on our return walk. A young bird was wandering about the nest, but mostly staying hidden. Then a large osprey carrying a large fish landed on a steel girder a level below the nest, and proceeded to eat the fish it had clutched in a talon. We managed some nice photos of all this. One of the few times I really would have liked better than a three times optical zoom.

We encountered road work as we continued along the dirt road to Cable Beach, near the Turf Club. Looks like the road will soon be bitumen at least as far as the race course. Broome has horse races most weekends during the dry season, so having a better road for access seems a nice addition to their tourist facilities.

We continued to Cable Beach, originally called Cosy Corner, now near low tide. We wanted some contrasting photos to our high tide photos of a few days ago. We basically wandered to the same spots, except when on the beach, we were 50 to 100 metres further out to get near the water. There is a lot of sand exposed when you have tides that can range over an eight metre rise and fall. We also noted where the 4WD vehicles went to get through the rocks and to the many other kilometres (22 in total) of mostly unoccupied beach.

The most unusual sight was a large convoy of camels plodding along the beach, one of several tour groups, and doubtless the least comfortable. I've ridden camels. Trust me, cars are much more pleasant (and smell marginally less vile - and I don't like cars).

We eventually had breakfast at Cable Beach Sandbar, after initially deciding they didn't have a breakfast menu. A very small cashier chased us and pressed menus into our hands just as we were about to leave. Had a great breakfast there, and it certainly has a fine view.

We drove back via the Japanese cemetery on Port Drive, where over 900 Japanese pearl divers are buried. The rank after rank of tidy graves of those who died gathering pearl shells is astonishing in its quantity. It is also astonishing that industries, even back a century ago, should be permitted to risk lives so readily. On the other hand, we still permit companies to legally supply tobacco and alcohol, so we are no better at curbing company irresponsibility.

There were actually several cemeteries here. What appeared to be a general one, although there was no overt label. There was a large area for Muslims, but relatively few graves. There was an elaborate Chinese cemetery. The Japanese headstones all faced Port Drive, the Chinese all pointed away, the Muslim ones mainly in another direction.

Jean sent me out for food in the evening, but we spent most of the evening just catching up on our computers. Too many mosquitos and sandflies to want to risk the outdoors very much. We both got bitten a lot during our stay in Broome.

Day 33, Broome, Wednesday 7 July 2004

Today we had to do our laundry, in heavy competition with a busload of tourists. It took me until nearly ten to get the two loads through the washing machine and hung out to dry. Mundane life is such a pain.

The tourists, from Dubbo, were on a 28 day drive around Australia. I am astonished at the rapidity with which some people can manage long trips. We are unsure when we will next have laundry facilities, just as we are unsure when we will next have access to a phone. Not that the phone here can provide better than 28 kbps.

We also needed to do wine shopping for the next week, as we will probably not find another reasonable wine shop for a while.

We basically wasted our time packing bags, again catching up on computer work, and reading our books. We did have to go out to refuel the car at the Coles express discount service station, and collect lunch, so we had a last walk around Chinatown.

One different event we didn't avail ourselves of is Greg Quicke's Astro Tours, viewing the moon and planets via telescopes in the clear unpolluted outback while learning basic astronomy.

Day 34, Broome to 80 Mile Beach, Thursday 8 July 2004

Leaving Broome (16580 km, latitude 17.58S, longitude 122.14E)

We got away a little after 8 a.m. Our first stop was very early, at Roebuck Plains roadhouse (16618 km), just after Roebuck Plains Station, to collect sandwiches for later in the day. We didn't know what sort of food would be available when we did finally get to the next fuel stop.

It seemed a very long drive, to us, after a week of relaxing and being eaten by mosquitos in Broome. Jean has back problems, and doesn't like long days of driving, so we try to stop about once an hour, if there is any rest area available. We came upon the tourist bus from Dubbo at one rest stop.

We eventually got to Sandfire Roadhouse (16907 km, latitude S19.46, longitude E121.06), where we stopped for a little fuel. We weren't sure we had the range to get all the way to Port Hedland on the one tankful. Like many roadhouses, they had a small caravan park, and some cabins. These can be handy if you just need to stop for a rest, but there usually isn't a lot to do at a roadhouse.

Our aim was the Eighty Mile Beach caravan park (16962 km, latitude S19.45, longitude E120.40), run by Col and Jo Lewis. This is about 350 km down the coast from Broome, and about 10 km off the Great Northern Highway along a corrugated dirt road. We were anxious to get there not long after midday, because there is basically nothing else that sounded interesting in the 600 km between Broome and Port Hedland. There are certainly no towns. The caravan park has about 200 sites, a small bunkhouse for backpackers, and about 7 cabins, plus one self contained cabin with ensuite. They had already run out of powered sites, so we felt lucky to have arrived in time to get a cabin.

We were pretty happy with the cabin, since it had ample room, a fridge and a microwave plug crockery, plus a barbecue and tables outside. Of course, there was no phone, and we were out of range on our mobile phones. They did however have a coin operated internet machine. The major disadvantage of all these places is that you can invariably hear the generators from any place in the campground.

The beach was on the other side of the coastal sand dunes that protect the caravan park from the sea. It stretched as far as the eye could see in either direction. Also as far as the eye could see at high tide were fishermen, standing ankle deep in the water or on the sand, rods ready for a strike. They were spread out, about 20 metres apart, each with his own territory. Far up the beach were some 4WD vehicles, and every now and then another would drive slowly along the beach. The midwinter equatorial sun was still pretty hot, and the temperature must have been about 30C.

Later in the afternoon we took another walk on the beach. The happy fishermen were mostly packing up and walking back to the caravan park. We didn't actually notice many fish being carried. In fact, none. We asked a few, and discovered that all the ones we talked to had spent several hours feeding fish their baits, but not catching anything. They all seemed happy with their afternoon, despite this lack of catch.

This recalls a comment of Joseph Nicholas during his recent visit, about fit and happy retirees in Australia. No-one we saw here was ever going to get on the cover of some beautiful people magazine, showing lean, youthful and rich figures lazing on a tropical beach with a cocktail to hand and a waiter hovering respectfully. Most were in old clothes, most were about our age or older, most were a little overweight, most a touch sunburnt. However all seemed to have a cheerful word about their day.

We went fairly early to the caravan park store to buy dinner. They did old fashioned steak sandwiches and hamburgers with home made meat patties, lashings of salad, all on giant buns. Slowed us both right down, but it was one of the best hamburgers I've had this trip (and many country store hamburgers are really great).

I have to mention that the ablutions block here had some of the best designed showers I've seen. As well as the shower head pointing from the side (rather than out into the dry area as some do), the shower had real shower doors. The dressing area was thus kept mostly dry, and was well supplied with hooks for clothes, and a bench. The floor material was some sort of composite that seemed to dry very readily. There was a mop and squeege supplied in the ablutions block, so you could quickly dry the shower area. Well done, especially for a place so remote from any competition.

Day 35, 80 Mile Beach to Port Hedland, Friday 9 July 2004

In the early morning, at low tide, the beach was stunning. The water was far away, and the wet sand was laden with myriad sea shells, many of them colourful. We went for a bit of a walk before we set out on the road again.

We again saw the lady bicycle tourist I had first seen way back in Halls Creek. Slow and steady was beating our lengthy stays at any interesting place.

The small Pardoo roadhouse (17067 km, latitude S20.03, longitude E119.50) and caravan park also has a few cabins. We stopped here mainly to check it out, and pick up a Pilbara area map.

Pardoo roadhouse is just before the turnoff to the 12 km dirt road to Cape Keraudren Nature Reserve and Coottenbrand Creek. Camping is available on the beach for those staying for the fishing.

About 30 km further along, Pardoo Station homestead, 13 km off the main road, has accommodation and camping facilities, and offers a chance to experience station life. You do need to book ahead for these station stay facilities.

Port Hedland Port Authority", (17238 km, latitude S20.19, longitude E118.36) is an iron ore export industrial centre for BHP Billiton and their Boodarie Iron. You can take a tour of the BHP Nelson Point iron ore facility, and also the Boodarie Iron hot briquette plant (by way of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and the School of the Air, plus the Cyclone Forecasting Centre). Dampier Salt produces sea salt for industrial purposes, and you can tour this plant also.

The town of Port Hedland supports the mining operations. The population of the area is about 15,000 people, and the spread out shire covers 11,844 square kilometres. We came across a shire Welcome sign on the highway 110 km from the town. Local roads are somewhat scarce, with 177 km of paved road, and 380 km of dirt road. Shortage of space around the port led to an additional residential area being constructed at South Hedland. The only cyclone forecasting centre the Bureau of Meteorology operates in West Australia is on the road into Port Hedland, which seems to frequently be in the path of cyclones.

Captain Peter Hedland discovered the harbour in 1829, and the town served as a port for the Marble Bar gold rush after Port Hedland was established in 1892.

After settling in at a Great Western Hotel (since we needed access to a phone line), we went seeking lunch at the nearby shopping centre. This wasn't totally successful, as Jean was concentrating on lunch, while I was concentrating on news stands and other stores. Regardless, we got some stuff to take back to the room.

After lunch we made a search for a map of the area (we latter discovered there was one in a directory in the hotel room). This led us into the port area, and to the Port Hedland Visitor Centre. We wandered around any historic buildings that had information signs on them, and also looked at the ships. You can see these from a small waterside parkland at the end of the main shopping street.

From any place along the shore you you see giant carrier ships out to see. There were several docked at the port, being loaded. These ships displaced over 200,000 tons, and several were over 300 metres long. Not a small port at all, it is the second largest iron ore port in the world. Ore comes from the Newman area, over 426 km of railroad.

There was red dust all over the town, only partly from the red soil. Every building, every roof, every piece of material in town had ingrained red. Even the pigeons wore red dust coats. I found my throat soon became sore from breathing the very air. Either that or my cold is returning.

The open air Dan Rhodes mining museum on Wilson Street is just next to the Coles Express service station where we were originally going to be seeking discounted fuel. The museum features three restored locomotives.

Jean was able to collect her email, which did include the editorial comments on her Open Office book. She was able to make the corrections and upload the revised PDF to O'Reilly during the evening. That was the main reason we needed a decent motel room this evening.

Day 36, Port Hedland to Tom Price, Saturday 10 July 2004

Leaving Port Hedland (17238 km).

Sunrise was a spectacular sight, since iron ore dust is scattered through the air. Nothing like particulates in the air to provide wonderful sunrise and sunsets.

Our room this time included a continental breakfast, so we had a touch more to eat than usual, and it perhaps took us longer than when we prepare our own breakfast.

At checkout time, I joined the Best Western club, in the hope of a better price at others of their motel chain. We are not seeking them out particularly, but have already spent several days with them so far this trip.

We tried to get on the road early, but it seemed to take a while to get moving. For a short while we were behind a large roadtrain. We stopped at the Coles Express service station outside South Hedland (17249) to refuel for the next leg. Got a good price, $1.08 a litre, at least for this far away from a major city.

Then there was the tedium of the drive, enlivened by incidents. We were behind a small truck with a barking dog in the tray, when something flew off the back of the truck. Jean swerved to avoid it (I thought it was a cushion), however we were unable to attract the attention of the driver to his loss.

We turned away from the coast after about 50 kilometres. We seemed to alternate between very flat land, broken by dry river beds, and worn down hills. The land got more and more red, with more rocks exposed. The piles of boulders were not unlike smaller, more frost shattered versions of the Devil's marbles of the Northern Territory. The road ran past rolling hills, partly covered by spinifex.

We were now in the Pilbara region, perhaps the largest shire area in the world, with around 500,000 square kilometres, and one of the least densely populated, with 45,000 inhabitants.

Around lunchtime we finally reached the first sign of any facilities. This was the Munjina (Auski) roadhouse (17504 km), where we bought sandwiches for lunch. Their cashier area included a small hand lettered sign, written on a paper bag, saying the boss needed a haircut. If anyone with hairdressing skills was passing through, and had time to do a haircut, could they tell the cashier. Auski also have motel units in their caravan park, which is the only thing there apart from the service station. We decided against staying overnight, as Tom Price looked a slightly better base. It is, after all, a town.

Soon after leaving Auski we entered the Karijini (Hamersley Ranges) National Park in the heart of the Pilbara region, and came upon small interesting gorges. We stopped for photographs of the road cutting through Munjina Gorge. The cuttings through the rock showed the deep red layered strata rather well. The highway cuts across a corner of the national park, then exits the park, and continues to Newman. We had some excellent views of the gorge the road cuts through from a viewing area at the end of a dirt road marked with a photography sign.

We soon turned off on the Great Northern Highway for the road to Tom Price. This took us past the entrance to the Karijini National Parks visitor centre, so we drove the 11 kilometres into there. The Visitor Centre is constructed of solid iron, with massive sheets of black iron stark against the rugged red landscape.

We wanted to ensure we could get a room for the night at Tom Price, so as soon as we had collected maps and descriptions of the park, we continued the 100 km to Tom Price.

The Hamersley Iron (part of Rio Tinto) mining town town of Tom Price (pop 3500, 17684 km, latitude S22.42, longitude E117.48) is the support town for a gigantic open cut iron ore mine, at the base of the 1128 metre Mt Nameless, four kilometres from town. Tom Price is the highest town in West Australia, at 747 metres, and we found it can be cold at night. As with Port Hedland, the entire town is covered with red dust.

We got a room for two nights (all we could get) at the Tom Price hotel motel in the centre of town, and discovered renovations over the weekend had closed their food facilities. A nearby fast food place provided a somewhat ensmalled evening meal. We should have taken the advice of the hotel and ate at the other motel, the Karijini Lodge, as they had organised.

By evening it was obvious that I had again caught a cold. I'm not impressed with the health effects of travel. It is way too unhealthy.

Day 37, Tom Price, Sunday 11 July 2004

We were up early, around 6 a.m. We got on the road early, after refilling the car with fuel. We couldn't collect any food at the service station, as it had not arrived that day. We were carrying an esky with everything edible from the room fridge, so we could cope with that.

Unfortunately, we soon ran into light rain. With the National Parks having dirt roads, we discussed continuing on the 100 kilometres to the Visitors Centre via the sealed main road, and attempting to find whether the parks roads were still open. By the time we got to the first entry road to the National Park, the rain was heavier. We could see that even heavier cloud covered many of the gorge areas. We didn't attempt any of the lookouts, as it was plain that little could be seen. We turned around and returned to the hotel, having basically wasted a couple of hours. Now to see if we could get accommodation for another night.

We visited the local caravan park, in the shadow of Mt Nameless, however their cabins were booked out until Wednesday.

The helpful Tom Price Visitor Centre was open on Sunday morning, so we checked there about potentially using the private railroad service roadway to get back to the coast. This drops a potential 600 kilometre or more journey on sealed roads to a 250 kilometre drive on a dirt road, and cuts travel time from a day to about four hours. First we had to watch a safety video about the road. This left us less inclined to see that as road as an alternative, especially as heavy rain could turn it into a quagmire.

Back at the motel we looked for our warmer clothing, as it was turning unseasonably cold, despite an average winter high of 28C. We saw locals in wool beanies. The renovations that had prevented any food service had also taken out the power until midday, so Jean couldn't use her computer. While I had plenty of life in my computer battery, having a cold made me disinclined to write up notes.

Jean went out and battled with the elements several times during the day. She talked with the cleaning staff (who thought a room would be available the next day). She talked with reception, who couldn't say whether a room would be available until the power came on again (but were willing to bet power wouldn't be on by midday - it was actually 1:15 p.m., and there were no rooms available on Monday). Jean went out to seek lunch, but the place we had used for dinner the previous night wasn't open due to renovations. Jean went to Karijini Lodge motel to check the lunch food there. She came back to report they had a buffet dinner that evening, starting at 5 p.m., so we had scraps of left overs for lunch, and saved our appetite for dinner.

The Karijini Lodge dining room looked a bit more modern than where we were staying. We had a good buffet dinner, although it seemed almost the only place in town you could get a dinner. As we were leaving we asked about rooms for Monday and Tuesday, and were at least able to get a room for the Monday night. That gives us one more day for the rain to clear up.

Day 38, Tom Price, Monday 12 July 2004

Another wasted day. It was cold and raining when we awoke. It was raining when we packed the car. While we waited at the Karijini Lodge bar for our room to be ready we did see some patches of blue sky, but mostly it was overcast. While we were waiting Jean found someone who had been out to the National Park recently, but we still were not encouraged to attempt it after rain.

The room wasn't actually ready when we eventually got the key. Jean contacted reception, and eventually housekeeping got to it and did it out of order for us. The room was a bit old and tired, and the lighting was entirely inadequate for reading. Other than that, it worked fine.

We had another buffet dinner at the Karijini Lodge, which serves copious quantities of good plain food. It was preety obvious many people there were not tourists, but workers at the mine. Both hotels, and the caravan park, seemed to have a lot of extra workers.

Day 39, Tom Price to Port Hedland, Tuesday 13 July 2004

The overpriced and somewhat tired room here at Karijini Lodge at least includes a decent breakfast. You can tell they cater for the mine workers, as breakfasts start at 5 a.m. We figure if the weather looks OK, we can try some of the nearer park entry places, in the hope of some views of the gorges. Otherwise it is a boring 450 km drive back over a road we have already done, with only one expensive place to refuel, so we will load up on fuel here at Tom Price where the cost is reasonable.

Jean phoned up and booked a room, for the first time this trip, back at the Best Western where we had previously stayed at Port Hedland. By this time it was obvious that Jean had caught a cold, probably from me.

After breakfast at the motel, we were a little delayed in getting away from Karijini Lodge because their reception computer was being backed up. They asked us to return in ten minutes. It was actually somewhat longer than that, and the (new) receptionist didn't know of an alternative manual method. I should mention that most receptionists now seem to know of two or three motel packages on computer, but may never have encountered a manual accounting system. I'm convinced a travelling computer enthusiast could get work at motels setting up things like unattended backups after office hours, if any of the systems were reliable enough to allow this.

We still had clouds, but with a fair bit of clear sky also. As we got nearer the National Park area it seemed we might have a chance to view some of the gorges in sunlight, if the roads were passable after rain. We ignored Mt Morgan, and Hamersley, but took the first of the park roads that had short walks to lookouts.

Luckily the park roads, mostly in undulating country, were still in great condition. We had no problems, and were able to travel at 70 kph on some of the dirt roads. It was about 40 km to the Weano day use area. There we saw our first set of gorges, where we had a view of four gorges (Weano, Hancock, Joffre and Red gorge) meeting from Oxer lookout, and then from Junction lookout. They were pretty spectacular, with water carving out these rock layers along fault lines, hidden as they were in what didn't seem to be rugged country.

The hard brown rock seen is thin bands of iron oxide and fine grain quartz. The gray or pale brown rock sugary looking rock is dolomite, similar to limestone. The very soft purple or pink rock is shale.

More active visitors were taking the long walking (and climbing) tracks that led all the way down to the bottom of the falls. Some were even taking fairly young children.

Fourteen kilometres back down the road we took the next turnoff, which led to Joffre Falls and gorge. Again a great view of this enormous natural ampitheatre. The recent rain had provided at least a small waterfall.

Continuing along the same road for five kilometres, past some younger people hiking the distance, we pulled into the day use area car park, where some people were running a small generator so they could make a cup of tea. We checked out Knox lookout, and got some good views there also.

As we drove off from the car park, Jean realised she couldn't find her clip on sunglasses, so we returned to where we had been parked. I found them fallen in the red dirt. They had obviously been stepped on, and now had an impressive array of scratches on the lens.

By now Jean wasn't feeling all that well, due to her cold, so I took over the driving for the rest of the day.

We ignored the Kalamina Falls road, as the walk at the end is lengthy.

Another 40 km on, and past the visitors centre, and we were finally able to check the Dales gorge area, where there is a large camping area. We went straight to the circular pool lookout, and then followed Dales gorge rim a little distance to the three ways lookout, where you have a good view of another gorge forming.

On the way out, we stopped at the Fortescue Falls lookout, where there were numerous active people playing in the cold water at the Fern Pool. Most of these longer walks can take hours, and are better suited to those camping in the area. That is one problem with just travelling around in a car in remote areas, where a motel can be hundreds of kilometres away.

We mostly had sunshine, with some cloud cover. It only looked like raining a few times. All this tourist activity took its time. By the time we got back onto the Great Northern Highway it was after 1 p.m. We again stopped at Auski roadhouse, it being the only place on the entire length of the road, and had snacks. Their paper sign now said they had 13.2mm of rain that day.

Our only other stops on the Great Northern Highway were at the collection of rounded boulders about 100 kilometres before Port Hedland. These reminded us somewhat of the Devil's Marbles in the Northern Territory, so we got some photos of them.

Uneventful night at the Best Western at Port Hedland. Couldn't manage to do our laundry (the washing machines were full), and we are almost out of clean clothes. Jean did talk with reception, and arranged accommodation for Wednesday night at the Best Western in Karatha. This actually worked pretty well, eventually.

Day 40, Port Hedland to Karratha, Wednesday 14 July 2004

We set off late, so as to get some work done on our computers in the morning. We even had time to get clip on sunglasses for Jean, to replace her very battered pair.

The historic Whim Creek Hotel 110 km south of Port Hedland, on the North West Coastal Highway, was prefabricated in Germany and erected in 1886's. It is now the last relic of a vanished copper mining town. Opposite the pink pub of the Pilbara is the road to fishing at Balla Balla, past the old cemetery. The pink pub is indeed a shocking pink, and rather battered after a cyclone some years ago. Still functioning well however, and we had lunch at this interesting building. Well, it is also the only place to get lunch in this stretch of coast, and just about the only building in a 200 km stretch of road.

We turned off the North West Coastal Highway and went through Roebourne, an old town dating back to 1866, with many heritage listed buildings. Then past the modern mining town of Wickham (which we may revisit later) on the way to the side road to Cossack.

Cossack, at the mouth of the Harding River, established in 1863, was once a pearling port called Tien Tsin Harbour. After Governor Weld visited in HMS Cossack in 1871, it was named Cossack in 1872. The port was originally very important, with up to 80 pearl luggers operating from it in the 1880's, and 400 people living in the town. The luggers eventually moved to Broome. However the port was unsuitable for larger vessels, and export operations for pastoral and mining moved to nearby Point Samson.

Cossack is basically now an empty historic town, and about the only working buildings are the eight restored ones, mostly turned over to various art galleries. There are plenty of good places for fishing, and there is backpacker accommodation in the old police barracks. We were able to look at the old schoolhouse and the remains of an old train nearby. The 1890 Galbraith store now contains an indigenous art gallery and store. The 1895 Bond Store, which became a turtle soup factory in 1933, now holds the annual Cossack art award, held each August. The old jail, like that in Broome, is now also an art gallery. The Shakespeare-Hall Social History museum is in the old courthouse.

We had a wonderful view of the entire town from Tien Tien Lookout, where the water tank is. This hill gives 360 degree views over a wide area of countryside and coastline.

We also visited the Reader Head lookout, which gives an excellent view of the extensive Seattle's Beach right past Point Samson through to the Robe River iron ore loading facilities at Cape Lambert. We could see numerous enormous ore freighters standing out to sea.

Back at the Roebourne Road, we continued up the peninsula to Point Samson. This small fishing town (pop 250) was a small but confusing maze of dead end streets, with several seaside lookouts.

I was getting pretty tired by then, and Jean was still suffering badly with her cold. We continued on to Karratha (said to be a local Aboriginal term for good country), which is a major town, and the newest in the Pilbara region. It was founded in the 1960's to support the iron ore industry which had outgrown the available land at Dampier. Jean provided flawless navigation to the Best Western motel in the centre of Karratha (pop 10,500, latitude S20.44, longitude E116.51).

At the Karratha hotel we found we couldn't get more than one night accommodation. Even worse, after a search, and asking at reception, I found they didn't actually have a guest laundry at all. Since we had virtually no clean clothes by then, this wasn't very good news.

Jean phoned a bunch of other hotels in town, without finding anyone with a room for the next day, Thursday. She eventually located a room at Dampier, about 20 km further south. Meanwhile, I thought to ask reception at Karratha whether they would have rooms later in the week. We could get Friday and Saturday. They babbled about giving us a good price for two days, at $120 a night. Jean asked how come it was so much higher than the very good price (the best we have had for three weeks) we had for Thursday? They explained it was because we had been referred from another Best Western. Jean suggested we would have booked more nights, had they been available. They promptly gave us the extra weekend nights (when they usually have rooms spare anyway) at our original rate. So we asked them if we could also get Sunday night at that rate. We could! So that is why our original booking in Port Hedland turned out to be such a good deal for us.

Now we just have to hope that the Dampier motel has a guest laundry!

We wanted this extended time because there is the Millstream Chichester National Park in the area that will take an extended drive to visit, however there is no accommodation any closer to them. We figure we will be away driving on one of the days. And then we will want a day of rest! However it again appears that the weather will not co-operate, so we may never get there at all.

Day 41, Dampier, Thursday 15 July 2004

We left the Karratha motel as late as we could, after catching up on email, since they had a working phone system. Jean insisted she was well enough to drive.

The Vistor's centre didn't seem to have much information we hadn't seen elsewhere. We were unable to get a Dampier map, which was a minor problem.

We visited Back Beach at Karratha, with its boat ramp and view to sea. We also drove around Karratha, getting an idea of what was there. Mostly residences for workers, plus infrastructure. The centre still seemed one of the largest towns we had encountered for a fair while. It even had a cinema, and a shopping mall.

When we reached Dampier (pop 2000, latitude S20.40, longitude E116.42) we drove around the town, and found a lookout which gave a good view of the harbour area. It seemed a fairly typical industrial town of a few decades ago. Pretty much all the essentials were there.

The weather had again turned cloudy, and we had light rain for much of the day. Given the average rainfall at Dampier, Karratha, and Exmouth is under 240mm a year, why have to ask why now? We were able to get our Mermaid motel room a little earlier than the nominal 2 p.m. check in time.

A small cafe across the shopping centre parking lot supplied a lunch, so that was no real effort.

I seemed to spend the next several hours rushing off to check the laundry, in the hope of finding a vacant washer or dryer, and then put more coins in the washing machine or dryer. However despite the rain, I did get all our laundry done by mid afternoon. Well, except for whatever is lurking unseen under something else in the car.

Jean was still feeling poorly, and rested for most of the day. I wandered out between showers and visited the shopping centre across from the motel. The Woolworths there was well stocked, however fresh fruit seemed a problem. The bananas were no much use, so I couldn't get fruit to go with breakfast.

On a mission to find us a bottle of wine to go with dinner, I did find us a very nice bottle of Brown Bros Very Old Port, which the Woolworths Liquor store had inexplicably reduced in price by close to half. Given the other bottles of port seemed the cheap and tasteless variety, I couldn't understand them having several bottles of this one. Figured there was a good chance of it being off. Instead it was exceedingly nice indeed, despite a little residue around the neck of the bottle. Just the thing to help cheer Jean up, and treat her cold.

With most shops closed by dinner time, we got a bar snack at the motel pub, after some searching for possible alternatives. The bar was way too smoke filled and noisy for me to want to remain there. They had seven TV screens, all apparently showing different sports events, and a jukebox playing rusty music. We ordered a steak sandwich each, to take back to the room, and then Jean fled. However when I collected the sealed containers, they turned out to contain fish and chips. Quick trip back to the bar, where the correct order awaited me. The steak sandwiches were pretty good too, although as usual even a bar snack was too much food.

We did some planning for the next part of the trip. Looked like we will reach Perth around the end of July. This turns out to probably be inconvenient. People Jean would want to see may be in Sydney. We may have to rush to get there before a weekend, in case we can catch up with any fans. It all sounds fairly messy.

It rained all night. As far as we can tell from the TV weather report, it is only raining where we are.

Day 42, Karratha, Friday 16 July 2004

After driving around as much of Dampier as we could, we drove further up the peninsula. It was an overcast day, with some rain, so visibility wasn't good from the few lookout points we visited. We tried to find the Dampier visitors centre, and the Dampier salt lookout, both marked on the artistic but not all that accurate map, but could locate neither.

We checked out the very nice visitors centre for the North West Shelf project, where there is a massive LPG gas plant. The offshore gas and oil rigs have been producing since at least the 1980's, with gas being shipped to Japan by tanker, and to Perth and elsewhere via the extensive gas pipelines that run from many fields in Australia. There have been recent reports of further useful although not major oil and gas finds in the area.

Unfortunately, the enormous distances to population centres means the return on investment of major infrastructure like gas pipelines can be precarious. I just noticed that the largest natural gas pipeline in Australia, the 1635 kilometre Dampier to Bunbury owned by Epic Energy, is now in receivership, with the banking syndicate trying to recover its A$1.85 billion debt. With only three gas shippers, Alcoa, Alinta, and the state government Western Energy, potential commercial pipeline bidders like Australian Pipeline Trust need to confirm the tariff shippers are prepared to pay extra for future expansion. Although the pipeline can handle 550 terrajoules a day, within three years another 135 terrajoules will be needed, and another 70 within five years. Prices of $1.25 per terrajoule have been mentioned, up to 25% higher than current tariffs. It is entirely possible the banks will reach their August 21 sales deadline without any bids at all.

It was interesting to note a remarkable number of Sturt Desert Pea in flower on the peninsula, especially along the gravel edges of the roads to the LPG plant. I haven't seen them blooming like that before at any place I have visited. The rain seems to have brought out a remarkable number of wildflowers.

Then it was back the short distance to Karratha. We wasted some time in the shopping centre, since we needed lunch anyway, while we waited for a likely time for our room to be available.

Once at the motel, we tried making a room booking for several nights for our next stopping place, at Exmouth. This wasn't one of the options at all. It seems school holidays extend a week longer than we thought, and the place is booked out. Jean eventually managed to find a room for one night over the internet. We needed that because there is only one roadhouse between here and there, and the drive will take us all day. The next destination is way too far for us to reach in one day. Besides, we want to visit the National Park near Exmouth.

Day 43, Karratha, Saturday 17 July 2004

We are having a rest day. I hope this helps us both recover from our colds, especially before we get out of the tropics and hit cold climates.

Mind you, instead of resting, Jean is working at her computer. She needs to do the additional web site material to supplement her recently completed book Is The Help Helpful? about online help for Hentzenwerke Publishing.

We still have cloudy weather, mostly just where we are, but now extending to where we will be in a few days. The Pilbara is proving a real pain in terms of tourism.

As well as resting, working on computers, and reading, we went shopping. It was also an excuse for a few walks across to the shopping centre.

Jean bought a new computer mouse to replace her old dead serial mouse. Having tried my tiny USB optical mouse, she knew that would work, and her new computer (awaiting her at home) probably only has USB ports.

I bought a small Tamrack camera bag, sufficiently larger than my old one that I could also carry my two spare AA batteries in it (although that part of the case unfortunately lacks a zipper). I'd had my old camera bag strapped to my bum bag, but it was hard to remove the camera bag when I just wanted to carry the camera. The new case has a snap (and velcro) fastened belt loop on it. My main failure mode with my digital camera (apart from not carrying it at a critical moment) is running out of battery charge, so the spare batteries are very welcome. I've taken 1935 photos so far this trip, so some days the camera gets a real workout. I also bought a couple of cheap DVDs, so I can try testing some software.

I think it is evidence that we are tired of the trip. We started to speculate that 80 days was enough time to be away from home. Around Australia in 80 Days. That sounds like a book title.

Day 44, Karratha, Sunday 18 July 2004

Sunshine and great weather finally returned, after seemingly endless cloud.

We drove off and visited the historic buildings in Roebourne, where the old jail has been turned into an art display and visitors centre area.

We also found the road to the hill lookout where the town water tank and TV repeater stands. This gave us a fine view over the town and nearby countryside.

Back at Karratha, we also found the hill lookout next to the visitors centre. This gave us views of Karratha, including a direct view of the hotel at which we are staying, just behind the shopping mall and Coles store.

Wildflowers were plentiful around the lookout, although the constant wind kept them in motion. I tried for some closeups of Sturt Desert Peas regardless.

We refuelled the car, using our last Coles discount, ready for the next day.

After lunch Jean went seeking a car wash. I hadn't thought about it, but it turns out the car washing machines detect the metal in the car, and don't detect things like fibreglass luggage pods. So automated car washes tend to destroy luggage pods. So we decided to defer a car wash. I think Jean was ready to spring into action with a hose to get her car cleaned.

While shopping for provisions, we bought another six pack of the miniature Streets Magnum Chocolate Addiction vice creams. This was purely to get our grocery bill over the magic $30 that gives us a 4 cent a litre fuel discount at Coles Express service stations. Of course, they start to melt in an ordinary motel room fridge, since the freezer sections are a bit wimpy. We had to have one each as part of lunch. We shall have another each as part of dinner. The final two we will have as part of breakfast. You can't take them with you.

In a fit of madness, apparently brought on by a chocolate high, Jean leapt upon the phone and started booking motel and resort rooms. Having reached around day 40 without booking anything, we now are suddenly booked into various different towns for the next eight days. I have to admit that this does include the school holiday period, which we thought was over by now.

Day 45, Karratha to Exmouth, Monday 19 July 2004

We were up early for our long day of driving. Although Jean needed to make her regular phone call to her mother, and reception didn't open until 7:30, we were away before 8 a.m. For us, this is pretty good. As Jean was phoning, I loaded the car. I had not really thought of how many trips it took to load our numerous small bags, and fit everything in its place. When travelling by car we take far more stuff than when flying.

Speaking of flying, instead of kites, we kept seeing wedgetail eagles pecking at roadkill. Naturally they hardly ever stayed still and posed properly for our cameras.

What can you say about driving? We drove steadily. About 130 km down the road we came upon the Fortescue River roadhouse. No sign of life there. Well, except for more wedgetail eagles.

It was very obvious that flooding had been bad this year. We came across a bypass around a high level bridge. Although the concrete support columns and steel bridge structure had survived a flood that was higher than the bridge, the flood waters has washed away the road on each side, leaving the ends of the bridge standing many feet in the air.

Somewhat later we saw a concrete culvert bridge that had simply mostly washed away entirely. Both were being repaired.

About 270 kilometres down the road we reached Nanutarra roadhouse, where we bought a lunch for later.

The bridge beside Nanutarra roadhouse, across the Ashburton River, also showed signs of damage. A second lane was being constructed alongside the original one lane bridge.

We finally stopped for lunch at a rest area near the Yannarie River. Lots of caravan people had the same idea. I note that someone had a cabin nearby, and had private property signs out, to discourage the curious. Imagine being a hermit with a rest area right nearby, and one that allows 24 hour camping stays.

About 40 kilometres past the rest area was a minor road leading off from the North West Coastal Highway. This took us about 75 kilometres west to the coastal road leading to Exmouth. Actually this was only the second road to the coast (the other being to Onslow) in the entire distance we drove.

The cape and hinterland appears very sandy. It is basically desert, with less than a foot of rainfall a year, despite sticking out into the Indian Ocean, and being (just) within the tropics.

I slowed down somewhat on this coastal stretch of road, as we were down to a quarter tank of fuel, and using it faster than we expected. We eventually reached Exmouth, and the first fuel station for the past 280 kilometres, with the low fuel warning light already on. We hadn't thought we would be so tight on fuel today that we would be under 8 litres.

We stopped at the Exmouth Visitor Centre (or possibly this URL to collect what maps and tourist details we could. Exmouth (populations 2400, latitude S21.56, longitude E114.08) was established in 1967 as a support town for the joint USA Australia naval communications station on North West Cape. The town was in the path of tropical cyclone Vance on 22 March 1999, and nearby Learmonth RAAF base recorded the highest ever wind gusts on the Australian mainland.

The Exmouth Telecentre is said to be in the Visitor Centre on Murat Road, but we saw no sign of their reported six internet booths.

The area was named North West cape by an Australian, Captain Phillip Parker King, who visited in 1818. He also named Exmouth Gulf after a Royal Navy officer. However the first known European visitor was in 1618, when Dutch Captain Jacobz brought the Mauritius into the area.

Despite having had beautiful sunshine during almost the entire drive, the skies were now overcast. One of the things the Visitor Centre brags about is that Exmouth has the perfect weather, no wet season. When we returned to Exmouth to collect some dinner supplies (like a bottle of wine) we got lightly rained upon. The weather report that evening showed that it was expected to rain exactly where we were, and where we wished to visit. Just great!

We had booked into the Best Western Seabreeze resort, located 5 km north of Exmouth on Monday, but could get only the one day. This was actually formerly inside the original 1967 Harold E Holt naval communications military base, as the motel is converted from one of the former enlisted mens quarters. There now seem to be only two (large) restricted areas left on the base, although there are many enormous restricted areas around various antennas.

The Sea Breeze hotel is certainly interesting. It really has great potential, because the rooms are very large. Most of the upstairs rooms are set up as three or four rooms opening onto a foyer area, with access to the foyers from an outside balcony. It is just the minor details that are a little weird, reflecting its former history.

We noticed that the upstairs rooms have cyclone shutters across the windows. Given the nearby Learmonth RAAF base recorded the Australian record wind gusts (267 kph) during a cyclone, I guess this isn't surprising.

I think it will be a contender to win our annual award for the worst lit rooms we have encountered. Like most Best Westerns, they have tried to do the right thing, with reading lamps on each side of the bed, and a (small) desk lamp. However the only main light in this giant room is a small fluorescent high on one wall. I'm sitting directly under this as I type, peering at my notes. Luckily my computer has illuminated keys (and we carry an extra fluorescent lamp in the car for just such situations).

There was a nice desk, just like at other Best Westerns. There were however no chairs. There was a sort of piano stool, which really didn't work well with our elderly backs. We kidnapped the only chair from the lounge furniture in our foyer, and just managed to get this large armchair through the door. With the sets of rooms grouped around a foyer, it is entirely possible that furniture such as chairs have been shifted from room to room by groups of previous guests. We noted some foyer areas had cooking facilities, and would obviously work very well for several families travelling together.

Then there is the room fridge, which is the noisiest we have encountered. We tried turning it down. When we try to get some sleep, we may well turn it entirely off. That one is just bad luck, although I do wish fridge makers would work on a silent model for motel room use.

The light switches are also interesting. They work the US way (opposite to Australia). Remember, this base was originally a joint US Australian facility, and the US has way more submarines to contact then Australia does. We also noticed a double USA power point on one wall, however in the Australian manner, the outlets are switch controlled. There was a clock plugged into one of the outlets, so I checked the voltage. Yes, it is 120 volts. Thankfully the later addition of other power outlets were standard Australian 240 volt types, and there were four outlets by the desk.

In the bathroom, a shelf has been added just inside the door. It is positioned in such a way that it is about throat height, ready to catch you in the windpipe if you enter incautiously in the night. That does actually worry me a bit. There are no power points in the bathroom, which leaves people who want to use an electric razor out of luck in the bathroom. It left us nowhere to plug our night light.

One good point is the fancy looking Sailfish restaurant and bar, with indoor and outdoor dining. The food listed on the menu seemed the sort that mostly appeals to chefs and food writers a lot more than it appeals to me. We didn't feel like fancy food after out long drive, but it would avoid the effort of driving the 5 km back to town. Another is that they have a nice 25 metre pool and shared sports facilities with the base. Obviously it would be a most convenient location for anyone visiting the base. I should also mention the Starlight open air cinema is right nearby.

The rooms all have an internet data line, which was a critical factor for us, and a major reason we have been using Best Western motels. Jean reports it is very slow, under 24kbps, even by the abysmal standards we have now come to expect along the interior of Australia and the West Australian coast. Since the next place we stay won't have phone lines to the rooms, we both used it, and were thankful for what speed we did get. I just turned graphics off while browsing.

Overall the Sea Breeze worked fine for our purposes, and we were very pleased to have had a chance to see what had been done with the naval base building. Jean being from a military family had seen many such quarters at US bases while growing up.

Day 46, Exmouth, Tuesday 20 July 2004

We headed north around the cape, towards the seaward side of the peninsula. Just about all the coastal areas are nature parks or National Park. We saw typical roadside signs like don't feed the emu. Much of the other land is devoted to antenna farms for the naval communication facility. We saw innumerable clusters of antennas, some of them exceedingly large.

Jean says this place blows you away, and indeed, it was so very windy that we soon encountered a small experimental windfarm! This was very small, with three turbines, each with 10 metre diameter blades on a 30 metre pole, generating 20 kW per turbine. Still, Western Power claim the June 2002 construction saves 50,000 litres of diesel a year. The towers used are capable of being lowered prior to cyclones, obviously an important consideration in the north west.

The road was mostly out of sight of the sea, as it was on the landward side of the large vegetated sand dunes that protect the coast. We drove past the large Lighthouse caravan park, which seemed to contain nearly as many boats as caravans, close to the sea but protected somewhat from the strong wind by the line of sand dunes on the seaward side of the road.

Vlaming Head lighthouse was on a prominent hill, and thanks to federal funding of the road, there was an easy road up the steep incline. We were astonished to note some older runners coming down the hill. At least they had the grace to look tired.

The Vlaming Head lighthouse is the only restored kerosene fired lighthouse in Australia. It is also the site of a WWII aircraft warning radar installation destroyed in February 1945 by a cyclone. The remains are there next to the lighthouse. Shipping in Exmouth Gulf was bombed by Japanese aircraft in May 1943.

You get excellent views of the coastline from here. You can also just see some of the largest antenna masts faint in the distance, over the top of the caravan park.

We also had an excellent view of the Lighthouse caravan park, spread out on the flat land below the hill. Their expensive chalets were on a hill from which they probably had sea views. It seemed a nice spot.

Jurabi coastal reserve includes turtle rookeries, where you can view turtles during the summer months. A new turtle information centre by the beach was established in February 2004. This gives a description of turtle behaviour, and how humans can avoid disrupting the turtles.

As we walked back along the path to the car, a curious emu turned up to watch us go. Probably after food from visitors.

Clouds as we drive. Do I need to mention that the further we went, the more clouds we encountered? The later in the day, the more dense the cloud, and more threatening it appeared. It was probably only the clouds that protected us from sunburn, as the wind was so fierce we couldn't possibly wear our hats.

We soon entered the Cape Range National Park, which is the only elevated limestone range on the north west coast of West Australia. It occupies 50,581 hectares of mostly former pastoral lease land. There are views of Ningaloo Reef from many spots along the road and beaches.

We decided to continue as far as we could, because of the increasing cloud cover, in the hope we could visit closer areas on subsequent days. It was on this made road, with gravel edges, that we got yet another couple of stone chips on the windscreen when rocks were thrown up by passing vehicles.

Yardie Creek and gorge is where the good road ends, and you need a 4WD to cross the sandy bottom of the creek at low tide. There are warning signs about the consequences of getting bogged on a rising tide. There is a short, easy walk here, which then leads to a longer difficult walk.

Yardie Creek boat tours have a one hour trip up the gorge at 10:30 and 12:30, wind and weather conditions permitting. Seems a good way to see an otherwise difficult area. Operators claim that you sometime see rare black footed rock wallabies (Petrogale lateralis). As the gorge is open to seawater at high tide, the water is actually salty.

With the weather still cloudy, and very windy, we started driving back, stopping at some of the many beach access area where dirt roads took you the short way to the beach or to over 90 camping and caravan sites.

We checked the Osprey Bay camping and caravan area, which as usual in National Parks had only pit or bio toilets as facilities, and nothing else. If you are self contained, including water and cooking facilities (no burning wood), it would be a nice place to stay.

We sighted either an osprey or a sea eagle sailing high in the sky. Looked very like the one we see at home, and was equally hard to photograph.

Pilgrammuna was much like other camping areas.

We noted the Ningaloo Reef Retreat track (and later their bus), where you could pay A$155 a night to sleep in a swag under the stars, and help prepare your own meals from their cookbook (they do however supply the fresh food). I don't think this is our style.

Bloodwood Creek offered some views of the dry creek, and various beach areas. There were large flocks of corellas on the sand, and these burst into view when disturbed by fishermen.

At South Mandu there was no camping, but there was a walking track of 500 metres to a beach. We noted the Ningaloo Reef Retreat bus parked here.

North Mandu, on the other side of the dry river delta, did have a camping area close to the beach.

Mandu Mandu gorge had a walking track. The track along the top of the north ridge of the gorge is rocky, full of potholes to snare the foot, and has two steep gullys near the start of the walk. It eventually descents into the gorge, so you return along the gorge floor after several hours. We did get some photos, but in fairly indifferent light. I took crossviews of car in car park afterwards, trying to get some of Ningaloo Reef as well.

Milyering visitor centre, 52 kilometre from Exmouth, is an environmentally friendly rammed earth structure with some solar power and wind pump for water (which is in short supply). It has the usual visitor centre and National Park material, plus a tourist shop with books and souvenirs, plus soft drinks and ice cream.

Ningaloo Reef extends some 260 kilometres from the cape down past Coral Bay. The fringing reef seen offshore protects a shallow lagoon like area that is two to four metres deep. In some places the fringing reef almost reaches the shore, allowing easy access from the coast. Viewing distances are reduced because it is close to the coast, however it has many species.

Many of the snorkelling areas are entered via beaches that have numerous rocky areas.

From Tuesday to Thursday we are booked into Ningaloo Caravan and Holiday Resort, opposite the visitors centre, near the heart of Exmouth.

I was pleased to note that Blue's Internet Cafe had both phone and ethernet access for laptop users, albeit at a slight premium on the usual price. We got fish and chips for dinner, took ages for it to be ready, but it tasted pretty good. I had to rush it back to the room before it got cool. Jean had returned just after we ordered.

Day 47, Exmouth, Wednesday 21 July 2004

There are way too many night lights in this room. The clock has LED numbers. The microwave clock has numbers. The air conditioner panel has glowing reports. The TV and the DVD in their mount high on the wall both have LEDs. The smoke alarm had a faint green LED. The power plug in the wall has a red neon. The power board has a red neon. The power supply connector on the Apple has an LED that changes from orange to green. The white sleep light on the Apple fades up and down. The power supply for the battery charger has an LED. The battery charger LED light changes from red to green. There is a night light in bathroom. There are also too many remote controls. For the air conditioner, the TV, the DVD, and also for the ghetto blaster stereo radio we found on top of one of the cupboards.

We woke late to the sound of rain on the roof, which is when I counted all these lights.

Every time I thought to take a walk or do any sort of tourist thing the wind picked up pace, and it rained some more.

We went out a couple of times, just routine stuff like shopping for dinner ingredients. The room we have has a full kitchen with a gas stove, so Jean decided she would cook a dinner, for the first time since Mattaranka. I was shocked. It rained heavily while we sheltered in the newsagent, and I bought magazines.

We took a later walk, intending to seek out Town beach. Got rained on lightly, and soon returned via way of an even cheaper internet cafe, and a second hand bookshop.

Jean is spending lots of time turning my notes into an actual trip report with many corrections. Probably photos as well, as she has taken copies of all 2000+ photos I have taken.

Meanwhile, for the second time this trip, my Macintosh has crashed (or at least stalled beyond recovery when I gave it a memory intensive task while multiple applications were open). Compared to Windows it feels stable. Compared to my memory of how stable Unix can be, Macintosh OS X is pathetic.

Day 48, Exmouth, Thursday 22 July 2004

The weather is again conspiring against us. We alternate sunshine with showers, too quickly to take much advantage of the sunshine. Jean is alternating reading and working on her computer. I don't know how families manage without a computer each. I've given up on tourism and have been taking notes for a new project. I've also been copying audio CDs to my computer, something I didn't think I'd have time to even start.

In the afternoon we were able to visit the eastern edge of the Cape Range National Park, by heading south along the main road out of Exmouth, where there is easy access to some nice gorges in the ranges.

Shothole Road is a 13 kilometre dirt road into the park, with very decent cliff and gulf views from many points along the road. We had cloud cover, and little sun for photographs, but very little rain. There were some puddles on the road, but it wasn't enough to cause problems. The walking tracks were closed. Looking at the state of the cliffs and the fragile nature of the ground, I don't think I'd have wished to attempt them in any case.

Charles Knief Road starts as a bitumen road, and only becomes a dirt road after you have climbed most of the eastern escarpment. Apart from some spectacular views along the road, and some great lookouts, it also leads you to the site of a very early (failed) oil drilling site at the far end of the road. If you only take one road into the gorges, this should probably be it.

We went to the nearest pub to collect steak sandwiches for dinner. A band was doing sound tests as they set up their equipment, so I was very pleased to escape as soon as possible.

We somehow managed to miss the TV weather report this evening, although with the rain being audible we very much wanted to check conditions for the following day.

We discussed how long the trip would take us. If we were to finish on Monday 16 August, that would be 80 days. That shorter option is starting to look better and better. We are not however sure we can manage to cover the remaining distance in that time, especially if we find various interesting things to see on the way. Cold weather may speed us up, as we don't like freezing.

Day 49, Exmouth to Carnarvon, Friday 23 July 2004

We got away well before eight a.m. in light rain, however as we left, the caravan park warned us that the road south had been cut by floodwaters both before and after Carnarvon. We decided to continue since road conditions change rapidly. The rain wasn't helping our mood any.

We made a stop at the solar observatory about 40 km down the road, however it had a number of large unfriendly signs around it, so we gather it didn't encourage tourists.

We also stopped to look at the commercial airport at Learmonth, which is the main air access to Exmouth and that area. It has a modern, trendy appearing terminal done in bright colours, with the sort of shapes you get from modern lightweight metals. The inside looked much like the small terminal back home at Proserpine. It seemed very deserted, and like Proserpine probably has only a few flights a day.

We diverted after about 160 km to visit the small coastal town of Coral Bay (pop 220). This looked very sand blown and waterlogged when we arrived. We did find another road advisory notice from 9:30 a.m., saying that there was flooding but the roads were all open. Coral Bay gives access to the southern end of Ningaloo Reef, and seemed full of diving and snorkelling tour operators. Very like Airlie Beach of say a few decades ago. It will be interesting to see how it develops over the years. Jean was able to get a phone connection on her CDMA mobile here, and the road information she picked up confirmed the notice we had seen.

We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn 8418 kilometres into our trip, at 10:45 a.m.

Back on the road south, and we had a bit of water over the road at the Lyndon River causeway. We watched someone else ford it, and as the Subaru has 200 mm ground clearance, we had no problems.

We rejoined the main north south road, the North West Coastal Highway, shortly before Manilya roadhouse. There was another water crossing just before the roadhouse, which also looked pretty waterlogged. We collected some sandwiches for lunch at Manilya just after 11 a.m.

We had left Manilya some time after a convoy of vehicles. About 20 minutes down the road we came upon about a half dozen stopped vehicles on a straight stretch of road. It seemed that one of the 4WD had rolled over, and ended up some distance from the road, probably only shortly before. It wasn't within phone range of anything, and there were plenty of people to lend assistance, so we continued on our way.

We came to a turnoff to the coast when within a hundred kilometres of Carnarvon. Dampier Salt have yet another facility 50 or so kilometres outside Carnarvon on the 2072 square kilometre Lake MacLeod, which was between the coast and the highway. We didn't even attempt to cross to the coast to see it, or the blowholes, or the HMAS Sydney memorial. Way too much water likely on that minor road.

We stopped at a bitumen parking area about 20 kilometres from Carnarvon to find the closest thing we had to an Carnarvon map. Another motorist (and his large friendly dog) wandered over and started chatting with us. He was an itinerant artist driving an autogas (LPG) fuelled car. Neither of us have ever had anything to do with autogas engines, so we couldn't help him with his starting problem. He had been stranded there for several days, hoping that the weather would warm up and perhaps help cure whatever was wrong with the car. We still weren't within mobile phone range, so we couldn't even help him with a phone call home. He obviously didn't like the cold weather (neither did we). We suggested he ask motor home owners when they stopped, as many seem to be good mechanics. He wandered off to the motor home parked behind us to do just that.

The town of Carnarvon (pop 6500, latitude S24.54, longitude E113.39), by the Gascoyne River, was named after Lord Carnarvon, British Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1876 when the town was settled for the pastoral industry.

The large satellite tracking disk on the outskirts of Carnarvon was installed by OTC in 1966, and received the first satellite TV transmission to Australia. It was also used during the moon flights, and in tracking Haley's Comet. It was closed after that in 1987. It is now an unattended tourist site, but even in the rain was a spectacular sight.

Thanks to Jean being efficient several days ago, we were booked into the Best Western Hospitality Inn. Jean's navigation was perfect, and we were soon in the room, and unloading stuff in the light rain.

Having ruined our appetite for dinner with late lunch and snacks, we grabbed a cooked half chicken and other stuff at the supermarket, instead of eating at the motel restaurant. We are both thinking a decent restaurant meal sometime would be in order. Cooked chicken and steak sandwiches eventually get boring. My own bid for chocolate mud cake for dinner was totally rejected by She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Oh yes, we have internet access here! Real Soon Now I'll know if it is fast or slow. Alas, like every other place since we left the Queensland coast, it was slow.

Day 50, Carnarvon to Denham, Saturday 24 July 2004

Good weather at last, with a clear sunny day, and no sign of rain.

We stopped at the local shopping centre to collect a ten litre container of water. Drinking water is in short supply on the 400 kilometre trip to Geraldton, and we are making many side trips.

The 1897 one mile jetty at Carnarvon was the first in the world to load live stock on ships, with an animal race the length of the jetty. Ship trade ceased in 1966 and road trains took stock instead. The jetty was heritage listed in 1998 and is now being preserved. You can walk to the end of it, and fish from it.

The local historical museum is looking after the jetty. There is also a reasonable railway museum at the start of the jetty. The nearby lighthouse keepers cottage is a fine example of early 20th century building. The small lighthouse is also still there.

We revisited the giant OTC satellite dish to get some photographs while it wasn't raining. It looks even more impressive in fine weather. We also had a much better view of Carnarvon.

We soon ran into more water hazards on the road not long after leaving Carnarvon, however regular traffic was getting through. None of the water running over the road was deeper than 300 mm, and most was under 200 mm. The surrounding countryside was mostly pretty flat, and there was a lot of standing water, and even more mud to be seen. Many dirt side roads were obviously closed to traffic.

We stopped at Wooramel roadhouse for lunch, that being the first roadhouse (or anything else) we reached. It looked pretty damp, with lots of mud and lots of puddles. Got our usual chicken and salad sandwiches. We also noticed pastries and cakes, all home made by the man of the roadhouse. The apple turnover we had was pretty good.

Not far from Wooramel we came upon a fine lookout which gave extensive views over the flat countryside. You could see the red mud extending it seemed as far as the horizon. We took a bunch of photographs, since you don't often get a chance to see the areas flooded (the roads are usually cut when it happens).

We continued along the North West Coastal Highway until we came to the turnoff to the Shark Bay World Heritage area. I was surprised to note that the tourist radio channel (FM88) was available in that area. It seemed to be coming from antennas at the Overlander roadhouse at the junction, which is about the only thing around for a hundred kilometres. The roadhouse looked very busy, and very waterlogged and muddy. It actually provides a telecommunications link to the rest of Australia, because the Telstra optical cable goes along the South West Coastal Highway and has a link at this isolated spot.

About 20 kilometres down the Shark Bay road we reached the turnoff we wanted. This led to the old corrugated iron and wood Hamelin Pool telegraph station, built in 1884 near the shore of what was then known as Flint Cliff (named after a small but prominent white cliff a few kilometres further along the coast). This is one of the few surviving post office relics from the 38 telegraph cable stations from Wyndham down the West Australian coast to Albany in the south. They had a small museum of telegraph relics, plus more outside. There was a flagpole on a small hill by the shore, so coastal supply steamers could locate the isolated outpost

Solar panels on a small tower by the seaside power a radio link to an automatic telephone exchange at the Overlander roadhouse back on the main road south. This is how the phone connection is made from this spot.

As we were walking down to the beach we head a most distinctive and melodic songbird, which I photographed at some considerable distance.

Some of the old walls were made of shell blocks or coquina, cut from a quarry by the seaside. The quarry is still used to make repairs to existing shell blocks. You can see the steps cut out and the saw marks. The whole beach area, for many kilometres, is made of tiny Cardiid Cockle shells (smaller than a half centimetre wide) cemented together by their own dissolved calcium carbonate material. Some station homesteads and St Andrews church and the Old Pearler restaurant in Denham are made from this material, as early settlers had little building material.

After a short walk we reached a boardwalk out over the sea. Stromolites were the attraction here, although they are not exactly a lively item, being basically a layered limestone rock. Single celled cyanobacteria (blue green bacteria) produced these structures, some as bumpy towers, others as flat spongy mats. These living fossils from two or three billion years ago were what originally extracted carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and produced the oxygen that land animals needed to thrive. They were once believed to be extinct. They survive here partly thanks to a high concentration of salt in the shallow and partly isolated sea.

From Saturday to Monday we are booked into Denham Seaside Tourist Village (latitude S25.55, longitude E113.32), at Shark Bay, within reach of such attractions as Monkey Mia dolphins, and Francois Peron National Park. This is claimed to be the most westerly caravan park in Australia, and by my figures, it would be.

We took a walk through the town once we had unpacked. The wind was making it cold, and as the sun set, it got even colder. I really know that I am out of the tropics now. Having identified the local cafes and restaurants, we did check their menus, and most looked very acceptable.

We tried for a bottle of red wine, but couldn't get a cabernet merlot at the first bottle shop. They did offer us their bottle of shiraz. Yes, that was the entire stock. We walked further along the beach front to the other bottle shop, where we found an acceptable bottle of red. Jean accused me of making her walk too far.

We picked up ingredients for making pasta, as the cabin at the tourist village has complete cooking facilities. Jean thought it a shame not to make use of them.

Shark Bay was called Catharruguda, meaning two bays, by local aborigines. The Dutch captain Dirk Hartog landed at Cape Inscription on Dirk Hartog Island on 25 October 1616 and nailed an inscribed pewter plate to a post. You can see Dirk Hartog Island, the largest in W.A., across the water from Denham. Willem de Vlamingh replaced the plate with one of his own 81 years later. Dirk Hartog's plate is now in Rijkes Museum in Holland, while Vlamingh's plate is in the Maritime Museum of WA in Freemantle.

William Dampier named the area Sharks Bay in August 1699. The surveyor Ommanney arrived in the Monkey in 1834, to evaluate the area for a settlement. Monkey Mia was named for the vessel, and the aborigine name for rest or home. Shark Bay was charted in 1858 by Captain H H Denham, from whom the town takes its name. Denham was a pearling centre until shallow waters were worked out towards the end of the 19th century. It now supports fishing, pearling, salt manufacture and tourism.

Francios Peron National Park was named after the French zoologist who visited in 1801 on the Geographe under Captain Baudin. Captain Hamelin was in charge of the Naturaliste. This National Park covers 52,500 hectares on the northern tip of Peron peninsula, and was once a sheep station.

The Shark Bay marine park covers 1500 kilometres of coastline, the largest in Australia, and occupies 748,735 hectares.

Day 51, Denham, Sunday 25 July 2004

There were three nice looking wind turbines just outside Denham, on slim and elegant single towers. These were at least three times the size of the experimental ones we saw at Exmouth. These ones produce about 230 kW, and the three provide about 20% of the power for Denham. They save around 175,000 litres of diesel fuel a year. They are designed to withstand 200 kph cyclone winds, but they stop producing power when winds exceed 90 kph. You don't really see a lot of wind farms, as they are not economically competitive with coal power stations, except at isolated areas where bulk fuel has to be transported long distances.

We took the bitumen road to Monkey Mia reserve, only 30 km or so from Denham. This leads past some wonderful coastal scenery, and some brilliant coloured water views.

There is a nice visitor centre at Monkey Mia, with explanations of interaction with the dolphins, displays and videos. They have various specimens from dead sea life on display. There is a small jetty where you get good views of the area, and of the dolphin feeding.

We couldn't help notice a bird swimming and diving in the water around the jetty, chasing food. It was an exceedingly good diver and would stay underwater for considerable distances.

Jean risked the cold water and got some close up photos of dolphins. The feeding is only in the mornings, and happens two or three times. While we were there, dolphins appeared inshore and also around the jetty well before feeding time.

The four dolphins around the jetty seemed to be doing a lot of playing. They were however hard to photograph with a slow reacting digital camera due to their speed.

A pelican kept getting into the act. This creature got into the way of many photographs. It was eventually lured up the beach away from the dolphins when it was time to feed them. The pelican tends to snatch food intended for the dolphins, and I gather the dolphins were a bit annoyed about this.

I noticed a seagull was also using the same tactics. The dolphins were herding fish into the shallows, and one seagull would keep swooping just in front of them.

Jean got to hear the ranger from Calm (department of Conservation and Land Management) talk about what they and various scientists were learning about wild dolphins.

There is also the small Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort along the beach, right next to the dolphin interaction area. It had a convenience store and tourist material. I fell off the wagon and bought a Magnum Chocolate Addiction ice cream for my lunch. Jean resisted and waited until we were back in Denham to have some more pasta.

We went to the Heritage Hotel in Denham since they had a Sunday roast dinner. That went down very well, after all the days of steak sandwiches and similar. We think the last time we had a meal at a restaurant (as distinct from a cafe) was back at Kununurra.

Day 52, Denham, Monday 26 July 2004

Rest day. Jean was doing well at her computer as was I.

We did take three walks along the beach, and along the seaside.

No newspapers at the newsagent. They don't get the national paper during the week.

We went to St Andrews church, built from shell blocks which were a different colour to those we had seen elsewhere. The columns at the front of one of the pubs were also shell blocks, as also was the Old Pearler restaurant.

The Jetty cafe supplied a good lunch and great fish dinner. Pity we hadn't found that first.

Day 53, Denham to Kalbarri, Tuesday 27 July 2004

After we refuelled the car and as we left town, we took photos of Denham from a lookout on a side road some kilometers away near the coast.

Joined North West Coastal Highway after an hour and a half or so of driving.

Took photos of Overlander roadhouse, still suffering from the effects of several days of rain when we reached it after 10.

Then on to Billabong roadhouse for an early lunch. This is the only other roadhouse on this entire stretch of road.

We finally started to see real trees again rather than low shrubs of the desert areas. This means real rainfall occurs.

At the exceedingly extensive Galena Bridge rest area we stopped to photograph wildflowers. I wondered about this name, as I recalled as a child making crystal sets using a galena crystal (and very unreliable they were). The name doubtless came from the former Geraldine Mine nearby, which was the first lead mine in Australia. We got away from the area around 1 p.m.

Cultivated fields abounded in this area, as we were obviously in a large river valley. We noted fields of canola.

We turned off North West Coastal Highway and headed for Kalbarri.

After about 20 kilometres there were new all weather roads into Kilbarri National Park (186,000 hectare) to river gorges cut into the limestone by the Murchison River. Kalbarri is famous for over 1000 varieties of wildflower.

Only four kilometres from the road road to town, Hawks Head had wheelchair access from the car park. The new viewing platform was only a 100 metre walk.

Ross Graham lookout is along a short but rocky walking track from a car park only 1.5 kilometres from the road to Kalbarri. There is also a walk that continues down to the river, and this is the easiest path to the river.

We came upon Meanarra Hill lookout outside Kilbarri around 3 p.m., at the end of a winding dirt road that was in very good condition. This gave excellent views of the town and the Murchison River mouth.

Kalbarri (20883 km, latitude S27.43, longitude E114.10) is a fishing village turned tourist resort, near the sandstone gorges of the Murchison River and Kalbarri National Park. It is a very pretty and pleasant location, with a lot of work done on the foreshore park. The buildings are all low giving good sea views from shops along the seaside. Off the protected Murchison River mouth, the waves from the Indian Ocean crashed to shore, providing plenty of potential action for surfboard riders.

We are booked into the Best Western Kalbarri Palm Resort, a few minutes walk from the shopping centre and not much further to the beach. Unfortunately, Tuesday was the day their restaurant was closed, so we had to find a cafe or restaurant in town in any case for dinner. Jean had been seeking a steak dinner for the past day.

After my experience in Denham, where the newsagent didn't get the national newspaper during the week, I was pleased to see newspapers had arrived in town, and on the same day as their publication.

We soon found a bakery, where Jean got an apple slice and I got a chocolate mud cake. Fresh from the bakers hands, and very nice.

When we went back that evening Jean finally got her steak and I had chicken at a cafe. Both pretty giant meals. We had checked one of the pubs for a meal, but the noise level of the band practice there drove us out within seconds. Partly as a result of the large meals, we both pretty much collapsed for a while when we returned to our room.

Day 54, Kalbarri to Geraldton, Wednesday 28 July 2004

After a relaxed start, we stopped at the Kalbarri Bakery. They hadn't made any apple slices, but they still had some chocolate mud cake, so I got one as an emergency food supply.

We ignored the morning pelican feeding.

We headed back out the Kalbarri Road 10 kilometres, and then 26 kilometres of dirt road in the Kalbarri National Park. Luckily the dirt road had just been graded, and so was in really excellent condition with virtually no corrugations.

At the T intersection we drove another five kilometres to views of The Loop walking trail and the gorges which contain it, and Natures Window. This is about a one kilometre return walk, with some scrambling over rocks, but generally fairly accessible.

Natures Window is a small wind carved hole in the sandstone, through which you can view the Murchison River.

Back on the dirt road, we took the other arm of the road, and drove four kilometres to views of Z Bend, where the gorge plunges 150 metres to the river. Again, this is a one kilometre return walk from the carpark. We had some additional clouds by then, so viewing wasn't always as bright as we had hoped for photography.

The walking trail led past numerous wildflowers, including bush orchids, so we stopped often to photograph these.

It was lunchtime by the time this was all done, so it was back to Kalbarri town for us.

We bought lunch at the bakery when we finally got back to Kalbarri, and added some apple slices (plus a mud cake for Jean) to our food supplies. By then it was around 1 p.m. and we still had a fair number of gorges to cover as we finally headed south.

The Kalbarri National Park coastal gorges are all along the road south that we needed to take to get to Geraldton.

It was here that the first white settlement of West Australia took place, when two mutineers from the Batavia were marooned for their part in the mutiny.

We stopped first just down the road at Jacques Point to watch people surfing, despite the rocks that seemed ready to crush them on entering or leaving the water. Also had good views back to town.

Red Bluff was named by Wilhelm de Vlamingh in 1697. The lookout at the car park lets you see some of the cliffs that extend 13 km south to the boundary of the National Park. You can also see back to Kalbarri.

Pot Alley Gorge gives another series of excellent views to the south. You can walk down to the secluded beach at the bottom.

Island Rock stands alone in the sea, an isolated section of cliff carved away from the mainland by the waves.

Natural Bridge is similar to Island Rock, however here a rock bridge connects the outcrop to the mainland, and the sea surges through a hole at the bottom between the two.

Some people at the lookouts said they had seen two small whales, however we were not lucky enough to spot them.

Shellhouse and Grandstand show more of the spectacular cliffs of this area. Little wonder so much of the West Australian coast is associated with early shipwrecks. Mariners coming upon these cliffs under sail must have wished themselves well away.

There were more varieties of wildflower at these lookouts, so we took more photographs. There are said to be over 800 West Australian wildflower species in this National Park.

Geraldton (pop 20,000, 21153 kilometres, latitude S28.47, longitude E114.37) is 424 kilometres north of Perth, on the Batavia coast, with the 122 Abrolhos islands about 60 kilometres off the coast. Ships wrecked near it include the Batavia and the Zuytdorp

Upon entry to the Geraldton area, at 21146 km, we encountered our first traffic light since Katherine. This left me traumatised. I don't like traffic lights, as they offend my anarchistic nature. We subsequently encountered a considerable number of them in Geraldton.

We were booked into the Best Western Hospitality Inn, where we even had a continental breakfast included in the room rate. We had a hard time locating it, as road construction had closed the roundabout that identified where to turn. We went around the block, and eventually reached it from entirely the wrong direction. Once we located our Geraldton map, all became much less unclear.

We did have to enter traffic again, since it was a little too far to walk (at least for Jean) into the town centre. We found an Eagle Boys pizza place , and for a mere $6.95 brought a large pizza home (along with a nice bottle of cabernet merlot). The Eagle Boys pizza place gave us coupons for future discounts. Jean liked the Eagle Boys pizza excessively.

Day 55, Geraldton to Cervantes, Thursday 29 July 2004

After a more hearty than usual continental breakfast, since they included ham and and a variety of cheese, we set off for Cervantes.

One of our stops was at Mt Scott overlooking the port area. An interesting symbolic HMAS Sydney war memorial had been placed there, overlooking Geraldton, and providing the best view of the town. The tall structure represents the bow of HMAS Sydney. The life size statue of a woman looking out to see represents the women and families left behind by sailors. There are 645 sea gulls in the dome, symbolising the men lost on the Sydney. XXX add history notes

Jean's camera battery failed while we were photographing the memorial. I was able to give her my old used one from a year or so ago, but it may not last long.

We visited a shopping centre, partly seeking a Coles Liquorland. If we were to stock up on a few bottles of wine for Perth, we wanted a Coles petrol discount coupon with it. Alas, although Coles and Target were there, no Liquorland, so we didn't worry about the wine. We wouldn't have sufficient grocery shopping to get a discount until we reached Perth, if then. Jean was however able to get a replacement battery for her digital camera, and at a better price at Rabbit Photo than the one she got at Radio Shack in Katherine. We did find a newsagent, and I went fairly crazy getting magazines I hadn't expected to find. Jean caught the infection and bought a Linux magazine.

We headed south along the Brand Highway, through Greenough shire, about 24 kilometres south, where 11 original buildings have been faithfully restored at the hamlet. There were a number of old buildings along this stretch.

We stopped at Dongara, near the seacoast, at a bakery to collect sandwiches for lunch, and couldn't resist their apple slices. Dongara had an interesting set of old churches grouped together. The Irwin District Museum is in the old police station. It is an old town, founded after the discovery of coal in 1845.

We continued a few kilometres further to the foreshore of Port Denison to eat our lunch by the seashore, where there were park facilities. Port Denison now supports the rock lobster industry, and there is a large MG Kailis plant on the foreshore. The park had a series of plaques showing details of numerous shipwrecks in the waters nearby. It also had an obelisk set up at Fisherman's Lookout to warn ships where the port was. This is the remains of two built in 1869.

We left the Brand Highway about 25 kilometres south of Port Denison and took the Indian Ocean Road. This passed through the edges of many reserves and National Park areas, however it was behind a coastal dune so you only caught glances at the ocean. In some areas there were squatter shacks by the seaside. In others these had been removed several years ago. We pulled into several small inlets when a road was obvious. Most of the beached were piled high with dead seaweed, and in several inlets there was commercial fishing infrastructure, mostly looking old and weatherbeaten.

We stopped at Leeman for fuel, and bypassed Jurien Bay, said to be the largest town in the area.

Just a few kilometres before Cervantes we turned off into Nambung National Park. This is a small park of 17,491 hectare, but about 17 kilometres into it, on a good paved road, it features the Pinnacles Desert. In the windblown yellow sand, four or five kilometres from the coast, there are thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of limestone columns rising from a few centimetres up to three or more metres above the sand.

Some pinnacles looked like tombstones. Some were sharp, rising to a point. Some early seamen sighting them at a distance thought they might be an ancient city. There is a one way loop driving track through the pinnacles. At places it is very narrow, so larger vehicles like buses can't get through. We saw a bus tour group walking to a lookout, whereas we got a fairly lengthy drive through the place. I found it fascinating.

Lime from seashells is part of the sand dunes. Winter rain leaches lime and cements the grains of sand together lower in the dune. Vegetation stabilises the dunes however an acidic layer of soil and humus develops over the top. The acidic soil accelerates the leaching, and a hard layer of calcrete forms over the softer limestone below. This cap can be seen on some pinnacles. Cracks in the calcrete allow water to seep through and eat away the limestone, with the cracks filling with quartz sand. When the vegetation dies, prevailing winds blow away the sand, leaving the more resistant pinnacles.

This geological action is quick, with the landscape today probably having formed in the past ten to thirty thousand years. A guide mentioned that three hillocks we were seeing today were a single dune three years ago.

Cervantes (latitude S30.30, longitude E115.04) was established in 1962 to service the rock lobster fishing industry. It is 259 kilometres north of Perth, and provides access to the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park. Cervantes was named after an American whaling vessel wrecked off the coast in 1844.

We were booked into the Best Western Cervantes Pinnacles Motel, which proved to be very close to a few small shops. I must mention they had excellent lighting in the room (unlike most motels), and a square table we could put our computers on (most motels had a round table and working space was usually very tight). They also had their phone line data port near the table, and they had a power point there as well. Top marks!

We just managed to collect a dinner and walk back to the room when it started raining. I had just taken out some normally untouched bags so I could rearrange things in the car when the rain started. My bags at least seem full of things that I shouldn't have, like an accumulation of books I've read and magazines I intend to read.

Day 56, Cervantes to Perth, Friday 30 July 2004

It was alas raining when I packed a few things back into the car before seven. I couldn't resist taking a photograph of the combined Thirsty Point Liquor Store, Video Hire and Internet Cafe.

Lake Thetis is only 2 kilometres from town, and this small salt lake shows rare stromatolite formations, one of only six places in the world where they exist. We had seen them earlier at Hemelin Pool.

Rain, rain, and more rain. We seemed to spend most of our time in rain storms. Most unusual sign was one to Gravity Research centre, with which was associated Southern Cross Cosmos Centre. I figured it must be New Age (rhymes with sewerage).

We only got lost once, when we encountered suburbs. The roads really could do with better marking, although if our Perth map had street names on it that would have also assisted.

We are booked into Scarborough Budget Holiday Resort until Monday morning. This proved to be a comfortable place, with bedroom and living room so we could work easily. Scarborough (latitude S31.54, longitude E115.45) is a seaside suburb, sort of on our way into Perth. We hope it allows us to avoid coping with the heaviest Perth traffic. It seemed a good location, with a pretty sea view about a block away, and excellent food shopping nearby. We had a Coles, a Cole Liquorland, and a Coles Express service station within a block, all of which we wanted.

Shopping run, and we got rained upon (lightly). I got to carry all the heavy stuff. The bus stop to Perth was also right outside the Coles, and conveniently terminated there.

Around dusk I took the bus into Perth (it terminates at a bus interchange next to the railway station) and met Sally and Susan at the Angus and Robertsons at the railway station. Took a little searching to locate it, as there were two upstairs sections with shops.

Sally led us to a coffee shop where we sat and talked. Then it was off to a much larger Angus and Robertsons where Sally's son Evan was working. Although it was impressively large, and spread over two floors, I luckily didn't find anything I wanted. However Sally and Susan both found books they wanted.

Sally led us to yet another coffee shop (which made more than I would normally go into in a year) where we sat and talked some more. Sally was going to pick up Evan after work, so we all walked back to the train station. From there even I was able to find the bus station for my return journey.

Day 57, Perth, Saturday 31 July 2004

I had planned to visit Perth by bus again. Sally had told me of a holographic coin commemorating space from the Perth Mint in Hay Street. She also kindly phoned me while I was returning on the bus to tell me the mint was open Saturday morning.

However every time I stuck my nose out I got rained on. Despite this, and intense competition for the washing machines, we got part of our laundry started pretty early. When I went the single block to get the Weekend Australian newspaper, I got thoroughly rained upon, and pretty drenched. I gave up on taking the bus to Perth, as rain continued through the morning.

Jean and I sat around and read, or worked on our computers.

There was an Eagle Boys pizza place a block away, so we collected a pizza (and even more coupons).

Day 58, Perth, Sunday 1 August 2004

A relaxed day, partly because of early morning rain. More sitting working on computers for us both.

Sally phoned around lunch time to invite us over for a few hours mid afternoon. Jean figured she could work out how to get us to nearby Tuart Hill in the car. We were able to spend a relaxing few hours chatting with Sally, Dave, Evan and Susan.

Day 59, Perth to Kalgoorlie, Monday 2 August 2004

We are now headed home, east across the bottom of Australia.

Some misting rain as we completed packing, followed by showers as we tried to dodge commuter traffic on our way out of Perth. In the first hour we covered 43 kilometres, then 61 kilometres in the second hour.

We stopped to photograph an Ettamogah Pub we found along the way. The other one we know of is on the east coast. This west coast version seems very new.

Obviously we stopped at Baker's Hill to seek a bakery. Found one, on the highway, and got some apple slices to take with us for morning tea. I seem to recall they didn't last long.

We also stopped so Jean could take photographs of trains, thus helping complete her collection of items.

At Mekering we saw much mention of the Mekering Earthquake. Most of the fault line has been obliterated over the past few decades, since it was in inconvenient locations for farmers.

After that it was a pretty boring drive. We stopped to look at a sample section of the rabbit proof fence. The sample seemed to be sponsored by fence companies. The rabbit proof fence was started at the highway in 1901, and completed at Esperance on the south coast in 1903, and at Port Hedland on the north coast in 1907. It is 1837 km long.

Jean took photos of the Golden Pipeline. This 1903 engineering feat brings water 563 kilometres from Mundaring Weir in Perth to Mt Charlotte Reservoir at Kalgoorlie. The State Chief Engineer C Y O'Connor organised the pipeline to ensure the goldfield driven mining boom continued. The project was publicly criticised and there was political pressure, and O'Connor shot himself dead a few months before the pipeline delivered water.

We turned off the Great Eastern Highway at Coolgardie (pop 1100), and travelled the 40 kilometres out of our way to Kalgoorlie. This simply had more extensive facilities, plus more to see.

We arrived at the Best Western Kalgoorlie (22342 km, pop 31,000, latitude S30.45, longitude E121.28) after a 621 km drive. We are both feeling the cold whenever we emerge from the car. Luckily the last few places we have stayed had reverse cycle air conditioning and soon heated up.

We had a restaurant meal at the motel, since we think it unlikely another will be available for a while, as we cross the Nullarbor. Very enjoyable, with four lamb chops each, although they had ran out of the wine we wanted.

The motel had a typical USA style mixer tap on the shower. Realising that visitors may not be able to read the small H, C and Off marked on the chrome surround, they added a plastic sign with a diagram high in the shower. However the shower used one of the very small tap handles, rather than the large ones common in the USA, and was pretty stiff. Someone with arthritis would have had great difficulty moving the handle, especially when it was slippery with soap and water

Day 60, Kalgoorlie to Balladonia, Tuesday 3 August 2004

We got away late from the motel. Our first stop was to take a look through the wide Kalgoorlie streets, where multiple buildings from the end of the 19th Century are still in excellent repair. We also found a news agent for the paper, after some searching. There was a fine statue of St Barbara, the patron saint of miners, at an excellent little square near the centre of town. The 1908 town hall is only one of many fine buildings dating from early days.

Kalgoorlie has produced more gold than any other site in Australia, close to 1000 tons since 1893. During the peak of the gold rush days, Kalgoorlie and Boulder had a combined population of 30,000, plus 93 hotels and 8 breweries.

Next was the lookout at Mt Charlotte, overlooking the main street, and also the end of the 566 kilometre Golden Pipeline that brings water to the city. From here we had good views of the town. We took photos, and spent some time chatting with a pair of other tourists slightly older than us and sporting much more impressive cameras.

Next stop was Super Pit, the mine site Alan Bond nearly pulled together. Super pit is the largest open pit gold mine in Australia. At present the pit is 2.9 km long, 1.2 km wide, 250 metres deep. It will eventually be 3.6 km long, 1.35 km wide and 500 metres deep. Mining never stops, and 85 million tons of earth a year are removed from the pit. Most of the 30 trucks you see use a 2300 HP engine, weigh 166 tons, and haul 218 tons away in each load.

We stopped in Boulder, on the way out of the Kalgoorlie area, to collect some lunch and morning tea.

It was a long boring drive to Norseman, which is why when we reached the town centre we photographed tin camels at Norseman. The town was named after the horse Hardy Norseman, because in 1894 the horse uncovered a gold nugget. Prospector owner Laurie Sinclair then found a rich vein of gold, which eventually yielded 5 million ounces of gold. Jean changed notes at a bank (when it finally opened at 1:30 p.m.) and I skulked around a book exchange. We didn't stay long, just time to top up the fuel in the car. Prices were on the way up.

More driving long country roads. Trees with red trunks by the roadside interested Jean, as we hadn't seen these before, so we stopped for photos.

At Newman Rocks we stopped and basically failed to identify what was significant about the rocks. There was a small pretty pool there, which must attract animals.

We saw yet another eagle as we got within flying range of the roadhouse. I suspect that with tourists travelling early and late near roadhouses, the eagles find it a very fruitful area for road kill, since many animals are on the road at dawn and dusk. I always keep a sharp eye out for eagles when within 20 kilometres of a roadhouse.

Balladonia Roadhouse (22741 km, latitude S32.21, longitude E123.37) was where some of the debris from Skylab fell. They had a decent museum with exhibits of Skylab plus much about country life.

We had a nice deluxe room, well away from the generator so we could hardly hear it at all. Unfortunately we didn't do as much typing of notes as we had wished, due to our dinner.

I bought a roast lamb dinner that turned out to be too large to complete. Jean's lasagne was also large. We basically didn't manage to stay awake all that long after dinner. It was cold at Balladonia, and that discouraged much wandering around.

Day 61, Balladonia to Eucla, Wednesday 4 August 2004

We came across warning signs about camels along the road, but no sign of the real thing.

Trees were thicker than I expected, as was the grass. At several places there was evidence of recent rainfall. Some of the roadhouses we stayed at or got fuel had a lot of mud around. The last trees were 25 km east of Balladonia, and I thought we had reached more typical desert, but every now and then more trees would appear.

We came across several Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) emergency airstrips, where a section of the main road was made slightly wider, start and ends strips painted upon it, and a sign put at each end.

Then it was 90 mile straight, claimed to be the longest straight stretch of road in Australia at 146.6 kilometres. Now that is a boring stretch of road.

Just before Caiguna we came upon a small sign to the Caiguna cave blowhole. This is just a location where caves beneath the Nullarbor suck in or blow out air in accord with the outside air pressure. The air flow can be very fast at exits from some Nullarbor caves.

This also gave me a chance to photograph the trench the Telstra optical cable is laid in. These cable trenches (and large rocks removed from them) can be seen beside many highways in Australia.

At Caiguna (22929 km) we entered Central Western Time Zone, 45 minutes ahead of Perth. Unfortunately this Apple Macintosh seems unwilling to let me adjust to this time zone at all, with my choices being either Perth or Adelaide. I can't make any sense of the /usr/share/zoneinfo files I found, which do not appear to be a plain ASCII file as I had hoped. For anyone else with a burning desire to adjust a Macintosh to central west time, the magic term to search for in the man pages is zic (the time zone compiler). I note I was able to adjust my Psion within seconds by simply adding a new city, and setting its GMT offset to an appropriate figure.

The road here for nearly a hundred kilometres is alongside or passes through the Nuytsland Nature Reserve.

At Cocklebiddy roadhouse we collected a lunch, which turned out to the usual super size sandwiches so common in country areas. Cocklebiddy Caves include a 6.7 kilometre underwater cave. The road is dirt and not signposted, but you can climb down a ladder and see the large lake at the cave entrance.

Some 20 kilometres further east we turned onto the gravel Eyre bird sanctuary road. This had 15 km of good and wide but bumpy gravel road to a large communications tower, and then about 4 km of poorer gravel road only one car wide to the lookout over the escarpment. We had some fine views, but we hadn't been sure what to expect. You can continue to the sanctuary if you have a 4WD. We had our lunch sandwiches instead.

Several hours later we reached Madura Pass lookout, which gave us some excellent views of the pass from the Hampton Tablelands at the top of Wylie Scarp down to the Roe Plain lowland, and the fine wide road through it.

Jean perversely took us down the pass using the old deserted highway, which appeared about a single lane wide. Things must have been exciting in the old days when you met a road train on that stretch. We were not originally sure what the track we were on was, as we simple went exploring from the lookout.

Madura had very expensive fuel, worst we have seen this trip. Luckily we only topped up a quarter tank. We should have refueled at the next location, at Munbdrabilla roadhouse, which was about 25 cents a litre less. Jean found that her notes were correct on which was cheap, but her memory had failed her.

Here you are driving on the low side of the Moodini Bluff, which shows as a gentle curved landform inland of the road. This is part of the Hampton Tablelands.

We finally reached Eucla (23371 km, pop small, latitude S31.41, longitude E128.53) around 5 p.m.

Despite my predictions several days ago about a scarcity of restaurant meals, we had yet another roast lamb dinner. The restaurant stocked Lamonts wines from Margaret River, which we had not tried before, so we had the cabernet merlot (listed incorrectly in the menu as just merlot), but the sample bottle clearly showed it was not. We followed this with chocolate mudcake and icecream. All very excellent.

I must mention that there was a charming little rock garden with a large, well lit fish pond outside the dining room. It made a wonderful distraction from the cares of the day. This garden has been worked on by various staff for many years, since the original owners started it as a cactus garden. Next morning we took some daylight photographs, and it was more extensive than we could tell from inside the dining room. However lighting at night made it look even better than the daytime view.

We did manage to catch up with our notes and downloading photographs, ready for the next bunch of activity.

Day 62, Eucla to Nullarbor Roadhouse, Thursday 5 August 2004

While we got up early, we didn't have any reason to rush off as we have only a short drive today. There are several things to see here at Eucla.

Eucla motel has a small but nicely done museum of the early telegraph and phone materials in the area, as well as other local history. Good to see a place trying to keep together these relics. Unfortunately I recognised an entirely too large section of the electrical exhibits as things I had picked up at dumps and played with when a child. These museums certainly make me feel old.

We went down the escarpment about four kilometres to the dunes, to where the partly sand covered ruins of the old Eucla telegraph station still stand. This really looks ancient and badly treated.

Once back on the highway, the nearby border crossing from West Australia to South Australia had a couple of wind turbines, however they seemed not to be picking up any breeze. Luckily they also had solar cells.

There was also an interesting roadhouse. Apart from the signpost to everywhere (mostly remote, as you would expect here), they also had a giant kangaroo holding a Solo can. I was much taken by the chapel. Jean thought it was so anyone could pray before the long drive across West Australia.

The first thing we noticed about South Australia is that unlike West Australia none of the roadside rest areas had toilets. Although it is less than 200 kilometres to our next overnight stop, we were visiting every ocean viewing site along the way, so we were expecting a leisurely drive, and did notice the lack of facilities.

Viewing points along the coast varied greatly in what you could see. At most of them the crumbling nature of the Bunda cliffs made me very nervous about where I was walking when near the edge. If you managed a good view of some of the cliff edges, you could see some were undercut by the sea, which was crashing against them some considerable distance below. You could also see the results of past cliff falls from these 40 to 90 metre high cliffs.

Despite this, there were some good spots for photos, so it was worthwhile visiting the coast at every opportunity.

We saw some additional wildflowers at some of these viewing points.

We reached our evening destination, Nullarbor roadhouse (23581 km, latitude S31.27, longitude E130.54) mid afternoon, but stopped for only a minute or two for photographs before the light was gone. We thought that if we stopped and got our pre-booked room we wouldn't have the momentum to continue.

About 14 kilometres east of the Nullarbor roadhouse is road into the Great Australian Bight Marine Park Yalata Indigenous Protected Area (Nyangatja Yalatanya Nganampa Manta). Although marked as a dirt track, this is now bitumen all the way in to the coast, about 12 kilometres. This is the Head of the Great Australian Bight. Further east, the cliffs have been pounded away by waves, whereas to the west, the cliff range tall for kilometre after kilometre, nearly 200 kilometres of sheer cliffs.

Entry is $8 each, at the White Well ranger station a few kilometres in from the main road. When we reached the coast we noticed a brand new tourist centre is being built not far inland from the cliffs, with solar power and wind turbines, and toilets.

The seaside area now has an extensive range of wooden walkways which both make it easier to partly descent the hillside, and also provide a wide range of views of the 40 to 90 metre high Bunda cliffs which extend unbroken for 200 kilometres to the west.

The popular event here is viewing the Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis), as schools of the whales moved west very close inshore. Many were accompanied by calves. Some did displays of fins and tails and generally disported themselves in a manner pleasing to photographers.

Even without the whales, you have a wonderful view from here of the cliffs to the west.

Day 63, Nullabor Roadhouse to Ceduna, Friday 6 August 2004

We went and visited the whales again, despite it being very windy and cold, with overcast or rain. I got frozen, as usual. At least the car has a decent heater.

whale postcard at XXX

Nundaroo meat pies XXX

We reached Ceduna (23927 km, latitude S32.69, longitude E133.40) during rain and with clouds when the rain stopped.

We had prebooked at the Best Western Ceduna. That turned out to be a great location, right across from the water (not that the weather allowed us to appreciate the great outdoors).

We had a newly renovated room, that will probably go down as the great room of the trip. It had sufficient typing space for both of us, despite sharing it with a TV. It had no less than 12 power points within easy reach of that built in desk, 8 of the power points directly above it. It had the internet phone line directly above the desk. It also appeared to me to be wired using structured wiring, ready for a future upgrade to Ethernet connections. The lighting was wonderful. Six downlights for the general room, four more in the kitchen sink area, plus two directly over the desk. It also had bedside lamps. We have not encountered any motel room with better lighting, anywhere.

I did our laundry, but with no drying space, and rain anyway, we had to use the dryer on them. This involved several trips to the laundry room to feed coins to the machines. Household chores are such a pain when travelling, as they always seem to need intervention while you are trying to do something else.

We searched in town for a place top eat, only to find many (well, the only two we liked out of four) of them closed at five, or soon thereafter. We eventually had dinner in our hotel, and it was pretty good country pub cooking. Also avoided dodging rain showers.

Day 64, Ceduna, Saturday 7 August 2004

No Weekend Australian newspaper available at the news agent. Try later, because the truck didn't arrive.

I did more more laundry.

Next two visits to the news agent, in between rain showers, and still no paper. Various rumours of what had happened to the delivery truck.

News agent closes at midday.

More rain, but I try the local supermarket, which normally also gets newspapers. Rain gets me, but I still can't get a paper.

Just before six, when the supermarket closes, I ran through the rain and tried again. The newspaper had arrived! The newspaper had sold out!

I did manage lots of typing during the day, as did Jean.

We were still at the Best Western Ceduna, having decided to take a rest day where we could work in comfort (and see to read). We had dinner in the hotel again, since it rained again, and since nothing much else was open.

Day 65, Ceduna to Port Augusta, Sunday 8 August 2004

When we refuelled at the Shell service station before leaving town, Jean searched assiduously in their store for a weekend news paper. She found a very small pile of the Weekend Australian under the loaves of bread. The cashier asked her where she had found them, as they thought they had sold out. So we did eventually get our news paper.

South Australia was closed on Sunday. It was sometime well after Ceduna that we saw the first speed sign in the state.

We did see a wonderful pink car at Kimba. We need to tell Krin about that.

We stayed the night at a cabin at a caravan park a bit of a distance out of Port Augusta (24406 km, latitude S32.28, longitude E137.46). When we went into Port Augusta we found Coles was open so we restocked our food, and Coles Liquorland (we were out of wine), and found the location of a Coles Express service station. That was a pretty successful shopping trip for a Sunday. Since the room had a small stove and a microwave, and all cooking facilities, we had microwaved chicken kiev.

Day 66, Port Augusta to Broken Hill, Monday 9 August 2004

It rained on us or threatened to rain on us for most of the trip. If there were any sights, we couldn't see them through the low cloud. We only covered a bit over 400 kilometres, after a slow start, but it seemed far further. We are both really tired of the travel now. Took a photograph as we crossed the South Australia to New South Wales border.

I must note that South Australia seems to have Telecentres, country internet access points, that appear superficially similar to those we saw in West Australia.

We were again booked in at a Best Western motel in Broken Hill (24840 km, latitude S31.57, longitude E141.29), a little distant from the business centre. Nice room, but it set a new low in dim room lighting. We turned on every light we could find, and managed not to stumble into the furniture. The restaurant prices there at the motel were more than we wanted to spend.

We wandered along Argent Street seeking inspiration about food. What we found first off was a Variety Club car bash just arriving in town, with all their strangely modified old cars. Wonderful sight, and they do a great job raising money for charity. Another wonderful sight was some of the old buildings for Broken Hill's early days. I should also note the mine tailings heap is one block from the main street. Leaves you in no doubt that this is a mining town.

At the newsagent I found a copy of iCreate, on using Macintosh applications, said to be a new Australian magazine. Internal evidence suggests this first issue corresponds perhaps to material from maybe issue 6 or so of the British original. I bought it anyway.

Jean decided on a Pizza Hut pizza for dinner, but they had little room to sit, and were playing obnoxious noise, believed to be music. I walked rapidly back to the now fairly distant motel, which must haven taken me a quarter hour at least, and collected the car. Jean and the just arrived pizza were awaiting me at the Pizza Hut, thus saving Jean a long walk back with her bad knee. In discussing this pizza, we both decided we had enjoyed the previous three Eagle Boys pizza a lot more than the Pizza Hut version.

Although it didn't have a separate data connection, at this motel I got a 44 kbps data connection, for the first time since leaving Queensland.

Day 67, Broken Hill to Nyngan, Tuesday 10 August 2004

On leaving the motel, we were slightly annoyed to discover our local call ISP connections were charged as a trunk call, due to the nature of the motel phone connection (ISDN, I guess).

We basically headed east all day, which is what we have been doing since about Perth. However we were now approaching a decision point. About 200 kilometres from Broken Hill is Willcania. From here we could take a dirt road north 300 kilometres to Bourke. Or we could continue east on the bitumen Barrier Highway to Cobar or Nyngan, and then head north west, back somewhat to the west, to Bourke. Then we would zig zag across central Queensland, since there is no road that takes us direct. Or we could change plans entirely, and head further east, and then take roads that generally go north until we hit the Queensland coast somewhat south and east of home. That is what we decided. Besides, the coast is warmer than the interior.

Nyngan (25445 km, latitude S31.34, longitude E147.11) turned out to be a much prettier town than I expected from very old memories. Our first choice of motel was full, but the Alamo (why that name?) worked fine for us. We took a walk down the main street searching for dinner. The RSL had been recommended, but their meals didn't start until 6:30 p.m. After going past some closed fast food cafes, we eventually came upon Beancounters Cafe, located at the back of a building. The place was deserted, however the hot pots we had were excellent.

Day 68, Nyngan to Narabri, Wednesday 11 August 2004

Nevertire Warren Warrumbungles National Park Siding Springs Observatory for lunch Bart Bok bridge XXX Write more here

We had hoped to get all the way north to Moree, where several motels advertise thermal pools. However we had spend too much time in the national park and at the observatory to make that practical. The park and observatory were probably both worth more time than we gave them.

We gave up for the afternoon at Narabri (25863 km, latitude S30.19, longitude E149.47), somewhat smaller and thus easier for us than Moree in any case.

Walk through town the town, which was starting to close down for the evening.

Bowling club, T bone and $13 a bottle for wine, all very typical small town stuff. The clubs generally do a good job in small towns.

Day 69, Narabri to Taroom, Thursday 12 August 2004

It was cold in the morning. The car reported 7C degrees.

Basically drive north all day, as you will see if you note our latitude nearly five degrees further north now places us back in reach of the tropics (finally). As predicted, now we have headed towards Queensland, the sky turned blue, and weather turned beautiful. When we crossed the Queensland border the weather was perfect, and the roads turned terrible (by comparison).

We originally thought to end the day at Miles (so I could report Miles to go before we sleep), however as we didn't often stop, we managed to get there early. We continued on for another hour or so to a little town called Taroom (26460 km, latitude S25.38, longitude E149.48). This gives us a much easier day for our drive to Rockhampton.

There is only the Cattle Camp motel in Taroom, so if you don't like it you are out of luck. We had a well set up room, with decent lighting. We were both able to set up our computers.

Day 70, Taroom to Rockhampton, Friday 13 August 2004

Between Taroom and Theodore we came across a short dirt track to Isla Gorge parking lot. A short walk to some excellent views of both sides of the Gorge, and a short saddle leads to a more extended walking track. This was very convenient to the road to Rockhamption.

We reached Rockhampton in the early afternoon, and stayed as usual at the Ambassador motel on the north side of the town. This is in easy walking distance of the shopping centre, so we were able to visit the Sizzler restaurant for dinner. Shopping was less fruitful, but we weren't expecting much either. I had thought I might (finally) attend the local cinema, but the early films didn't seem worthwhile, and the late ones way too late. I was to tired from the drive for such a late night.

Day 71, Rockhampton to Airlie Beach, Saturday 14 August 2004

We got away from the motel around 7:30 in 17 degree C temperatures, way too cold for the tropics. As usual the drive to Mackay was long and boring, which was why we hadn't attempted it the previous afternoon.

We took a bit of a lunch and shopping break in Mackay, since we usually can't be be bothered driving that far from home.

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