Puttin’ on the Britz

Thursday morning we got in touch with the local campervan agent in Broome. They didn’t have any of the small high-mileage Backpacker camper vans like the one whose engine blew on us. They gave us a Britz van which is SO much nicer. You can stand up in it. It has a microwave oven. It has a refrigerator instead of a cooler. (You have to go to a powered site every other day to recharge the battery which runs it.) It has a toaster and a French press. It’s a diesel Toyota and gets much better gas mileage, with a much larger tank, than the unleaded Mitsubishi we had before. It has 96000 km on it, instead of the 213000 km the other one had. Still, the old van had a couple advantages — it had a huge water tank, making me comfortable to stay by the road if that ended up happening. This one hardly holds enough water for washing dishes for one meal. The old van’s camp stove worked awesomely; this new one is harder to light. But it is built-in, and you get to cook inside; arriving after dark isn’t so much of a problem.

After screwing around in Broome for awhile, we finally got on the road and made it as far as the Sandfire Roadhouse. It has the best showers I’ve seen in Australia, powerful and hot.

Friday was another reasonably long drive. We stopped for gas in Port Hedland, which is a large town catering to the mining industry, and which you are warned against staying in in all the guidebooks and by all the tourists you meet. Our next destination was another rock art site near the town of Karratha, where we were also warned against staying. We were advised to stay in Point Samson, a nice little beach community between all of this heavy industry; from the beach we could see four tankers lined up waiting to take a load of natural gas to China. The line of ships reminded us of the Panama Canal.

On Saturday we drove a few kms to Karratha, got directions to the rock art site, and went there. Karratha turns out to be a major center of industry, both processing of natural gas, and transshipping iron mined inland onto ships headed to China. A train we passed on the way to the site had 240 cars; those trains apparently hold the record for both weight and number of cars. As we headed down the 3km dirt road to the site, we passed a major natural gas processing facility. The site turned out to be piles and piles of boulders, many dozens of which had various designs on them. Apparently there are 700 sites on the peninsula with similar collections of petroglyphs. There is quite a struggle between the natural gas industry and the aboriginals in this place, and one can easily guess who pays the government more. After a few hours scrambling around, we got back on the road and headed towards the Coral Coast, stopping at another obscure roadhouse with minimal facilities.

Sunday we continued on towards Exmouth, and on the way passed the first large kangaroo we’ve seen, in the form of roadkill. Poor thing. The smaller ones we’ve seen are pretty dumb, actually, dumber than deer. Little surprise so many of them end up feeding crows and eagles. We continued on to Cape Range National Park, the land component of the Ningaloo Marine Reserve, where we got in an evening snorkel and a green flash, and stayed at a nearby caravan park where we had the Sunday roast with a bunch of other old fogies. Monday we snorkeled three times in the park and saw another green flash; there wasn’t much live coral to speak of but there were many cute fish. (The place where you find really bright coral these days is largely The Past). It’ll be interesting to compare Ningaloo with the Great Barrier Reef.

At sunset, the road out through Cape Range is lined with kangaroos and wallabies of all sizes. Evolution is gradually winnowing out a detectable majority in favor of those who jump away from an oncoming car rather than toward it.

Another thing we did on Monday was to replan much of the rest of the trip: we were scheduled to drive from Adelaide to Cairns, stopping briefly to see Ayers Rock (Uluru). Now we are scheduled to fly from Adelaide to Alice Springs, where we will do a five night drive to not only Ayers Rock (staying longer there) but another nearby attraction called Kings Canyon as well. We’ll then return to Alice Springs and fly to Cairns. We’ll spend less time driving and more time “being there”. The saleslady at the camper van rental place seemed disappointed we were cancelling our trip. But “Awesome Campers” advertise 1998 model year vehicles, and after our breakdown, and upgrade, I’m actually kind of happy to pay a little more for a just-barely-luxurious late-model van from Britz.

This is the first camper van vacation we have ever gone on. It is instructive to learn what the issues are: French press, refundability, not blowing up the engine.