Next Service 288km

The transit ended successfully, and we packed up and drove a short distance to Cooinda, where there was a sunset cruise on wetlands. There were several dangerous saltwater crocodiles, which is all that anybody wants to talk about to Australian tourists, and some pretty birds.

Thursday we did some serious driving, stopping briefly to go on a cute walk under a cliff face. Being under a decaying cliff face is as nerbous as being on top of one, but the only sign of geologic activity we were subjected to was a large pile of honeycomb attended by a bunch of angry bees. It had fallen from an overhang several tens of meters up. Unlike the honey that was oozing out of Boris’s walls back in the day, I didn’t try any. It was well attended. We stayed at Timber Creek, which was named 150 years ago because there was wood there. The trees are pretty small up at the top end.

Friday we continued the serious driving. We had been playing a game of Nim with our food, and we were down to three slices of bread and the shards of carrot between my teeth. In other words, we were ready for the Western Australia quarantine inspection at the border. A few km later on, we stopped at Kununurra and stocked up, and continued to Turkey Creek Roadhouse, the pick-up spot for our all-day tour to the Bungle Bungles. I suppose that Turkey Creek was named for Turkeys. It now goes by its Aboriginal name, which nobody uses. We stayed in an unpowered site, as usual, which in this case amounted to on-the-street parking. The street was a dirt road to no apparent place so it was a good investment on the part of the roadhouse to appropriate it as a rental.

Our all-day Saturday tour picked us up at 5:30am, drove three hours into the park, showed us Echidna Chasm, fed us lunch, showed us Beehive Domes and Cathedral Gorge, and drove three hours back.

The Bungle Bungles, now known as Purnululu National Park, are a small mountain range about 35×25 km whose most recent geologic cause was a meteor impact which caused cracks in the sandstone. Over the millenia, water carved out the cutest chasms and gorges. Echidna Chasm is to narrow in places to walk to without twisting sideways. The tour guide assured that the catchment for these slots is tiny compared to the ones in Arizona, and even after a downpour the water is only waist deep.

Much of the rock is covered with orange rust and black, with the parts that are submerged every rainy season in their original white. The iconic image of the Bungles is Beehive Domes, a series of striped domes at the south end. It is just as special a place as Bryce Canyon (and at the same times of day) but is shaped somewhat differently. A special shout out to our neighbor Callum for insisting that we go there.

We then had two days to get to Broome to catch our next two scheduled all-day tours. The distances between roadhouses and towns continued to increase — it really was 288km from Turkey Creek to Halls Creek. One needs to manage fuel carefully. Sunday we drove to Fitzroy Crossing, where there was another afternoon cruise on Geikie Gorge, part of the large Devonian reef which winds around much of the Kimberley, the northern end of Western Australia. The cliff faces had been eroded into fascinating shapes, and undangerous freshwater crocodiles sunned themselves. We learned about a fruit that looks like the squashes that grow wild near our house but actually are soft on the inside and taste like a combination of banana and passion fruit. We were warned not to eat too many due to their laxative effect. We stayed at the Fitzroy Hotel and Caravan Park, which is essentially a caravan park for the 1%. People had mysterious antennas, solar panels, and the fanciest imaginable caravans and vehicles to tow them. We felt pretty humble, one of the three vehicles in the “unpowered” area (another one was the solar panel caravan). We accidentally parked next to the dump site, further increasing the humiliation.

Monday we continued the drive. About 175km along the way, we heard a sound like a machine gun, and I brought the car to a stop. The guy behind us stopped and noticed oil coming out the exhaust and pointed out we’d likely blown a piston. He had a satellite phone, and we arranged to get towed. After 90 minutes or so, we stopped another vehicle with a sat phone, and they said that the tow truck was on the way and would arrive in 90 minutes. And, just over four hours later, an hour before sunset, it did — it put the dead van on the flatbed and drove it and us to Broome. We managed to get out an email in a small window of cell coverage asking the travel agent who arranged our tours to find us a place to stay, since we no longer had a van to park in a caravan park. Bill, the driver of the tow truck, allowed it was all right with him if we slept in the wrecking yard. That seemed a little down market after Fitzroy, caravan parks provide a lot: water, showers, toilets, the absence of junkyard dogs; it seemed it was prudent to get a hotel. Besides, tour pickups at a towyard? The travel agent booked us into the “Broome-Time Lodge”. (“Broome Time” is the town’s self-effacing name for the tendency of never arriving anywhere on time.)

I called the camper van helpline and told them that we’d be on tours the next two days and that we’d deal with the van replacement on Thursday morning.

Tuesday we had another all-day tour, with the same pattern — get picked up early (around 7am), drive a couple hours, see stuff, see the sunset, drive back a couple hours, get back too late for dinner. This one went around the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome. The first highlight was when the vehicle’s fan belt broke, and the radiator broke off all of the fan blades. Miraculously, a shop near where we were was able to put on a new belt and fan, and we continued with a slightly abbreviated version of the tour. We had an hour to see the town church, with its mother of pearl altar which has some local fame.

The second highlight was going mudcrabbing. We picked up Vince, a local Aboriginal, who led us out onto this tidal plain and into these mangrove forests. It was a fascinating landscape — you could picture roots under the ground which sent up tiny little shoots, which is basically what we were walking on. Mudcrabs tend to hang out under the rather horizontal trunks of mangrove trees, and the group (not us) collected about six crabs altogether. We returned to the bus, Vince threw the crabs onto the fire, and we feasted on them as well as the normal tour lunch. The rest of the tour was fairly perfunctory, but we saw a nice sunset on the beach. No green flash though.

Wednesday was yet another all-day tour, though a larger group in a larger vehicle. We went to Windjana Gorge, another part of the Devonian reef, where we saw some beautiful birds and many “freshie” crocs. The signs pointed out the fossils in the reef. Then we went to Tunnel Creek, a cave walk where we walked through up to two feet of water. That was a blast.

Maybe it wouldn’t have been more expensive in the end to have rented a 4WD vehicle and driven to those places ourselves, but it’s hard to find places that will let you take a rented 4WD vehicle into the Bungles.