We were on the road surprisingly early from Adelaide River, given that we’d enjoyed the inn’s hospitality a bit more than we had intended to. Back on the Savannah Way we stopped in Katherine, ostensibly for some supplies but really because we wanted to pop in to our favourite Visitor Centre one last time. It was a long day of driving with the landscape gradually changing from scrub land and becoming hillier and more undulating with large sandstone ranges appearing on the landscape. We entered Gregory (Judbarra) National Park, through which the highway runs, and stopped at a few points to admire the views. With the temperature in the mid 40s we didn’t attempt any of the walks but made a plan to tackle them early the following morning.
Home for the night was the only town on the route; Timber Creek, which had one campsite and a slightly ropey looking bar. Having paid and pitched up, we noticed there was a rather unpleasant aroma around the place. It turns out that bats really really smell and Timber Creek has an abundance of them. So we spent most of the evening sheltering in the air conditioning and hit the hay early in anticipation of a day’s exploration in the National Park.We did rise early and drove the 50km or so along an unsealed road to where we had planned to walk. Having checked the signs on the way in we knew that most of the park was closed but the walk we had in mind at Bullita was still open, even though the campsite alongside it was not.It doesn’t take a genius to guess what happened next; we rounded a bend in the track and abruptly arrived at some padlocked gates, we could go no further. And so we did the 750m return walk to look at the calcite flows, swatted a few flies and drove the 50km back to the highway. All in all, an epic National Park fail and 100kms of fuel burned.
We had not planned to cross in to Western Australia that day but it was still reasonably early and we had little else to see, so we set out west. On our way back through Timber Creek we noticed a sign for Gregory’s Tree and, as we have come to appreciate random tree tourist attractions, we turned off in great anticipation. This particular tree is a large boab which had been engraved by a member of Augustus Gregory’s expedition which camped there in 1855.You can clearly see the dates of the expedition’s residency, which is something that we are sure the local aboriginal people were none too pleased about, as it is a scared site. There was also a plaque advising that recent research shows that engraving boab trees happens to kill them… it was turning out to be a really cheery day for National Parks. Nonetheless, it’s an impressively big tree and the carvings bring back to you the fact that people lived and worked in extreme conditions on the exact spot where you are standing… you just have to ignore the tree murder.
We kept on west to Keep River National Park which sits on the border between Northern Territory and Western Australia. The strict quarantine rules dictating what you can take between the states, and our earlier than intended border crossing, meant that we were left with fridge full of fresh veg which we would have to dump. We took the infinitely more sensible approach of pulling in to a car park, firing up the gas stove and standing in direct sunlight and 40+ heat to cook up our veg and make it acceptable to carry across the border.There wasn’t anything that we could do about the honey, which was confiscated. We crossed the border and stepped an hour and a half back in time. It is a truly bizarre experience to drive across time zones, made even stranger when the change isn’t a round number of hours. This meant that we spent the next 2 weeks failing to figure out what time it was where we were, let alone what time it was at home.
The time zone change also had the delightful side effect that our already early morning starts became even earlier as we woke up at 4:30 and lay waiting for daylight when we could be irritable with one another in an upright positon. In reality we weren’t too bad, the biggest problem that we faced was the fact that the high temperatures that we had come to expect at 8am were now hitting at 6:30am and it only took one 8am run for Caro to decide that it was never ever happening again.
Our first stop in Western Australia was Kununurra which we reached by driving past the lovely man-made Lake Argyll, a small 80km detour off the main road. The lake is yet another attraction that requires an expensive boat trip to see in full so we took the cheap route of driving round it to get our pictures:The lake’s very existence is interesting, and a large part of the reason that Kununurra is the agricultural centre that it is today. It was created following a government plan to create an intensive agricultural region within the tropics. The area benefited from fertile soils but the dry season meant cropping was not an option. The lake was created to provide year-round irrigation water and expand the agriculture from pastoral to intensive crops. This lead to the development of Kununurra as a service centre for the surrounding farms. The scheme has been expanded over the years increasing the many thousands of acres of productive land and now also includes a hydro-electric plant to provide electricity to the area. (Can you tell that James wrote that bit?)
We spent the remainder of our first day sitting by the pool and plotting the next day’s adventure with a visit to the Visitor Centre top of our list. The following morning brought the aforementioned run and, as we came back in to the campsite, one of the maintenance team was throwing scraps in to the nearby lake. James, being James, couldn’t resist going over and seeing what he was feeding, which turned out to be a freshwater crocodile, “Rocky the Croc”, and we mentally ticked off another of our animal spotting requirements. We watched Rocky for a little while and chatted to the chap who was feeding him who, it turns out, is “Pommie’ himself. We’ve heard this a lot; “moved over 35 years ago, used to live in Leeds”, “my wife is from Harrow originally, moved here when she was 5” and we wondered when or if these people ever consider themselves to be Aussies, they all certainly have the accent and the uniform. Our conversation yielded another tip to go and visit the Butterfly Cliff, which wasn’t on the tourist maps that we would pick up later. We were given a set of directions which only a local could give you, “turn left at the funny looking shrub” type stuff, and made our way out for the day.
After a brief visit to the Visitor Centre we made our way to Butterfly Cliff, which was a slight disappointment. The directions were bang on, but when we arrived we were not inundated by the thousands of butterflies which we had been promised, there may have been twenty. Nonetheless it was a bit of a leg stretch and had brought us in to the region of the Hoochery and the Sandlewood Factory, both of which were on our to do list. The Hoochery is a rum distillery run by a local farming family and very cool to visit even if you aren’t drinking, which we weren’t as we were driving and it was about 10:30am.The distillery has won loads of awards, one most recently in London, and we amused ourselves comparing the setting of this out of town rum distillery in Kununurra with the hustle and bustle of London. We would also highly recommend the rum cake, which was excellent.A brief stop at the Sandalwood factory demonstrated that we both greatly dislike the smell of sandalwood and it was back to town for some shopping and another afternoon in the pool.
After the worst of the heat had passed we headed to Hidden Valley (Mirima) National Park which is right on the edge of Kununurra and absolutely teeny, proving that the best things really do come in small packages. Hidden Valley is home to the mini Bungle Bungles (a rock formation that looks like melting jaffa cakes) and 30 minutes is sufficient to complete all three of its walks. We’d purchased a National Parks holiday pass earlier in the day, an absolute bargain at AUD42 with unlimited access to nearly all of the NPs in Western Australia for a month, so wouldn’t have had to pay to get in anyway but agreed that it was definitely worth the entry fee as the fading sunlight brought out the beautiful colours of the rocks.We had planned to watch the sunset from the local sunset hotspot, Kelly’s Knob (hehehe) but we misjudged our timings and ended up clambering up to the lookout and surveying the surroundings in semi-darkness. The experience was made all the more special by the group of English girls swigging sparkling directly from the bottle… it was nice to see some true pommies.
p.s. In case you were feeling a bit sorry for us missing the sunset, here’s a picture of the one from the previous evening that we will just have to make do with.