Trip 3:Thursday, September 7, Part 1

We were up just before dawn and began packing up bits of camp. The sunrise was glorious, and the light spilling over the astonishingly lovely bushland was magic.

Gawler Wildflowers


Our orphan lived through the night. Today, we’ll try (among other tasks) to find him a new home. We headed back along the dusty, red miles of beautiful wilderness, not stopping until we got to Iron Knob. Short break, mostly to buy beverages, and then on again, and back on to the Eyre Highway.

The knob of iron that gives Iron Knob its name


Skippy slept in my lap for most of the drive, only poking his head out of his pillowcase-pouch occasionally to look around or to suck on my fingers, hoping for milk. He is a heartbreakingly beautiful creature, with big, brown eyes and a coat like silk. His huge ears swivel independently, as he tries to pick up a familiar noise, and he shivers occasionally, no doubt because nothing is familiar.

First order of business in Port Augusta was getting the tow hitch on the ute repaired, so we could pull something again. Richard then arranged rental of a larger trailer, one on which we could load the totaled trailer we’d left out busy. Then we headed for the local vet Nikki knew, to drop off “our baby.” Skippy is so adorable, the vet’s staff fell in love with him—and they immediately called to make arrangements for him at a nearby animal reserve. One thing that amused me was saying cans of milk on the shelf for various forms of local wildlife, including wombat milk and kangaroo milk. Nice to know that they are equipped for emergencies like this.

Then back across town, to pick up the rented trailer. Port Augusta is a very utilitarian town, the “Crossroads of Australia,” where highways and trans-continental train tracks all converge, connecting in some cases with the busy harbor. As a result, there are lots of unattractive warehouses and work buildings—and charming, handsome, Victorian-era hotels. The area is pale and dusty, but flanked by beautiful Spencer Gulf and the Flinders Ranges.

Spencer Gulf


Port Augusta offers lovely old houses and dozens of service stations. Magnificent old gum trees and flowering bushes suggested to me that earlier settlers might have thought it a beautiful spot, and in its heyday, as a busy port, it would have been fairly wealthy, as well. Now, it’s a kind of tacky, ugly spot with some pretty bits in a magnificent location. But the residential areas are nice, and the people here are remarkably friendly.

And whatever else can be said about it, Port Augusta had everything we needed, including a good place for lunch. We were directed to a carry-out place that offered spit roasted chicken, salads, fish, gyros, and chips/fries. We got chicken and salads to share, and had a bit of a picnic nearby.

After lunch, with the new, larger trailer hooked up to the ute, we headed back into the wilderness, to retrieve our gear.

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September 6, Part 2

Port Lincoln, Eyre Highway, and through Lincoln Gap to Iron Knob. Iron Knob was once a thriving iron-mining town. In the late 1800s, it was the first commercial iron ore mine in Australia. But the mines closed. Now, the town is popular with retirees, as the lack of industry means fairly inexpensive housing.

We had turned off Eyre Highway onto the rocky, red track that leads to the Gawler Ranges. Myalls (a type of acacia tree), a few sheep properties, and then into the wilderness. Nikki told me that this was one of the least traveled areas in Australia, and that we would be unlikely to see anyone else for a while now.

The rough, red road cut through a scrubby wilderness. It was strange but wonderful, with the ground cover changing every few miles: scrub, spinifex, grass and wildflowers, saltbush and blue bush, and widely spaced trees. This may not sound beautiful, but it was. There was something in the ruggedness and remoteness that appealed to me. Birds were abundant, too: galahs, emus, red finches.

Then there were what I thought were kangaroos, but I was told they were euros. Also known as wallaroos, euros are heavier and harrier than kangaroos. It’s spring, so many of them have joeys in their pouches.

Oops.

Just witnessed one of the defensive maneuvers of euros–jump toward an approaching threat, to startle the possible enemy, and then run away. The problem is that a vehicle speeding down a dirt road doesn’t startle. The euro slammed into the trailer, breaking the hitch that connected it to the ute, so we had no control over the trailer. Richard immediately braked, and the trailer began to pass us, but the safety chain was still attached, so the trailer began to drag the ute around. Richard had a real fight on his hands, trying to regain control. (Nikki later told me that, because camping trailers are heavy, they can flip a car right over. It was only Richard’s years behind the wheel that kept that from happening.)

When we finally came to a stop, we shakily got out of the vehicle and surveyed the damage. The camping trailer, which was a fair distance away, was wrecked—caved in where the euro hit, plus the axel was bent. The contents of the trailer were strewn for about a mile behind us, and most everything that could break had broken. Fortunately, other than the tow hitch being broken, the ute is okay–and so are we. More adventure than we’d bargained for, but it made our decision as to where we should camp for the night pretty easy.

Assessing the damace


Being a veterinarian, Nikki’s first concern, after making sure we were okay, was to check on the euro. As she walked back to where the animal lay, I saw her go rigid. I was not far behind her, and I heard her say, “Oh, no.” Sadly, the euro was dead (Nikki said it was clearly very quick, as the euro still had grass in her mouth), but of greater concern to Nikki was that the euro had a joey in her pouch.

Nikki said she knows a vet in Port Augusta who cares for orphaned wildlife, so we’ll take the joey there tomorrow. But until then, we need to take care of him. Nikki wrapped him in a towel and stuck him in a pillowcase, so he’s snug and warm and feels sort of like he’s in a pouch—enough so that he stopped shaking. My first thought was of milk, but Nikki said cow’s milk would sicken the joey. We just needed to keep him hydrated. So we took turns dipping our little fingers in water and letting him suck the water off of them.

Keeping Skippy warm


We cleared everything off the road, on the off chance that someone might drive by (they didn’t—that’s the downside of being in a remote wilderness that no one visits—if you need someone to come by, they don’t). Then, making the best of a difficult situation, we set up our camp in a clearing, started a fire, opened the cooler, and prepared a wonderful “mixed grill” of lamb chops, steak, and sausage. It’s a beautiful evening, with the nearly full moon flooding the bush with pale silvery light.

Not a bad place to camp


We’ll need to get an early start tomorrow, so we made it a relatively early night. We passed “Skippy” from person to person as we got ready for bed, so he would always have someone holding him. It was freezing, so this was as much to keep him warm as to keep him feeling secure. As the temperature kept dropping, I was grateful for the thermal garments Nikki had loaned me, as well as the sleeping bag and blankets

The evening was not what we had planned, but it was, as Richard says, “Classic”—the classic outback adventure, complete with an orphaned joey.

Classic, indeed.

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Trip 3:Wednesday, September 6 Part 1

Up at 7:00, had breakfast, and got a tour of Nikki and Richard’s wonderful garden. (The hedges around the front gate are rosemary, so the place is fabulously fragrant.) Then we packed the ute (an Aussie pick-up/utility vehicle), hitched up the camping trailer, and headed out bush again. Richard’s years as a tour bus driver and outback guide were about to be put to good use.

We drove out of charming Nuriootpa, through delightful Greenock, among the rolling hills and spring-green fields of the Barossa Valley. Grazing sheep, vineyards full of awakening vines, and flocks of galahs alternated with small towns and large wineries.

Brief stop in Kapunda, where I photographed the town’s centennial statue of a miner. Before even bigger deposits were discovered in Burra, this was an important copper mining area.

Then on the road to Clare, rolling through a countryside that might be English but for the gum trees. Into Gilbert Valley, where large patches were brilliant yellow with canola flowers.

Into Auburn, birthplace of poet C.J. Dennis, author of The Sentimental Bloke. I’m a fan, so I was pleased. If you’re interested in knowing more about Dennis and his charming verse, I posted about the poet last year: C.J. Dennis post.

As we continued through the Clare Valley, we were surrounded by vineyards, but then we drove into a grain-growing region—one of the best in the world, Richard told me. Their specialty is malting barley that is so highly regarded it is even exported to Germany.

Before long, we could see the lower Flinders Ranges in the distance, across the miles of undulating, green farm land. We pulled into Georgetown, a classic little old town with buildings of field stone, with iron lace and wooden verandas much in evidence. We past the old railway hotel, a feature of most of these old towns, and stopped at the charming 1912 General Store. The interior of the store was as iconically rural Australian as the exterior. Here, we enjoyed a lunch of excellent meat pies with sauce and locally produced ginger beer.

Then on the road again, heading toward Port Pirie, across the hills, then swinging north, with the lower Flinders to our right and Spencer Gulf to our distant left. Yellow, gold, and purple flowers lined the road.

We joined Highway 1 and continued toward Port Augusta. We stopped briefly to watch stumpy-tailed lizards crossing the road. Samphire flats stretched toward the water. (Samphire is an edible succulent plant, sometimes called sea asparagus, pickleweed, or sea beans, that grows on some shorelines, marshy areas, and mud flats.)

The country not directly adjacent to the water was drier than that we had left behind. The mountains got closer and higher. Glorious flowering bushes surrounded us. We got closer to Spencer Gulf as got nearer to Port Augusta.

Not surprising, of course, but it’s quite a bit colder here than it was at the top of the continent. However, as we drive farther north, the clouds are clearing and the bright sun is warming things up a bit. Fortunately, Nikki was able to lend me some warm clothes for camping out in colder weather.

And into Port Augusta. Just a short stop, to buy groceries for our stay out bush—and to stretch our legs after the long drive. After buying food, we headed across the street to the grog shop, to buy some Strongbow cider. (I had learned to love Strongbow during my first trip to Australia–well before it was available in the U.S.) Then we were off again, heading for the Gawler Ranges.

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Trip 3:Tuesday, September 5

Travel day.

I was up at 6:30, finished packing, had a cup of tea and a shower, and headed out the door.

Entrance to Broome Airport

Plane visible through the foliage.

The hotel provided transportation to the charming little Broome International Airport. I was amused to see flights written on a chalkboard just outside the front door–but then there aren’t a lot of flights going through Broome. I checked in and then walked the 20 feet to my gate.

The jet I boarded had a surprising amount of legroom. Sorry I can’t fly Sydney to LA with this much space! Taking off, we swiftly crossed back across the land we had taken two weeks to traverse.

Broome from the air


A lovely snack was served on the Broome to Kununurra leg of the journey (finger sandwiches with crusts trimmed off and chocolate chip, macadamia nut shortbread–could they possibly have made anything richer!), and lunch was served between Kununurra and Darwin (chicken breast and large, chilled shrimp–yum). No need to buy lunch at the airport.

The Darwin Airport is larger than Broome’s facility, but still small enough that passengers walk from their planes to the terminal. The plane was air conditioned, and after two weeks without A/C, it felt strange, and I felt more comfortable during the walk from my little Broome plane to the terminal. It is another spectacular, hot day. However, the airport was also air conditioned. I’ll adjust. The terminal was crowded, but was bright and comfortable.

The flight from Darwin to Adelaide was on a bigger jet, and it was really packed. I was a little surprised, but maybe it’s because it also goes on to Melbourne and Sydney, after dropping me off in Adelaide.

I’m sorry to be leaving this part of the country. I always feel like I’m on my way home once I leave the outback, even though I have two more weeks in Australia. However, I’m grateful for those additional two weeks, because I’m not ready to leave Australia yet.

I fell asleep almost while the plane was taking off and became conscious again forty minutes later, when beverage service came through. Below me, there was a whole lot of nowhere. The amazingly rugged landscape stretched to the horizon, with mountains, rivers, fault lines visible, but only rare signs of anything approaching civilization.

At least from up here, it’s evident that I’m somewhere specific. At most airports (unless they are little ones, like the one in Broome), it’s generally hard to tell where you are. No matter how much “personality” an airport has, in all but the smallest airports, it’s hard to feel like you’re anywhere but an airport, and all airports are in the same place—at the center of arriving and leaving. And at every airport, I’m doing the same thing, arriving, leaving, or waiting, usually with a view that consists solely of runways and airplanes.

The broad expanse of wild ruggedness below me has now turned from the brown and green of the Top End into the red of the Centre. A three-quarter moon hangs in the blue sky just to my left and forward. The fairly consistent clouds of the afternoon up north have given way to rare wisps. My view changed dramatically as we continued south, from red land to solid cloud cover. Still, from the air, even endless clouds are astonishingly beautiful. It’s one of the things I love about flying.

Then finally, partial clearing and the ocean shore, as we approached Adelaide. The pilot reported a temperature of 11˚C (roughly 52˚ F). It was 38˚C (or just over 100˚F) when I left Darwin. I’m glad I have a jacket.

The sun was just setting as we landed, which made even the airport splendid. Richard (Nikki’s husband) was waiting for me at the airport. He’d been in town for work that day, so it was quite convenient for him to pick me up. Saved me having to take a bus north.

The drive to Nuriootpa took just about an hour and 20 minutes. Nikki had dinner waiting when we arrived. Richard’s brother, Sandy, was visiting from Sydney, and the four of us dined and chatted and drank wine and chatted some more until 10:30. Then it was off to bed, to get a good night’s sleep before heading off on the next adventure.

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September 4, Part 2

After lunch, we did a little more browsing among the shops along Carnarvon Street. I bought a lovely little, locally collected seashell: a Cypraea cylindrica, which is indigenous to this stretch of coastline. Then we caught the 3:30 bus to Cable Beach.

Cable Beach is a long (22 kilometers), beautiful stretch of white sand bordered by red cliffs, graced with purple-flowered vines and palm trees, and dotted with eroded black rocks. The beach gets its name from the trans-oceanic telegraph cable that was strung from Australia to Java in 1889, allowing Australia to then communicate with the world more quickly than sending a message by ship.

We walked and observed and photographed. When Belinda and Athena perched on rocks to rest, I continued on my own. I picked up bits of coral and tiny shells, photographed a hermit crab and the sand balls surrounding the burrows of sand crabs. (The sand balls are created by the crabs, who roll up and rubbish after eating and eject it from their burrows.)

As sunset approached, a couple of strings of camels were led down onto the beach. Riding a camel along the beach at sunset is one of the “things to do” in Broome, and sunset-lit camels appear on a high percentage of the souvenirs in town. I photographed the camels and then rejoined Athena and Belinda, who had been joined by Mim, Hazel, Shirl, Graham, Leslie, and Don from our recently completed tour. We exchanged notes on what we’d seen and what we would be doing in Broome, then said good-bye again.

Athena, Belinda, and I climbed a nearby hill to await the disappearance of the sun. By 5:30, the huge, golden orb was well on its way towards the water. There were not a lot of clouds, so the sunset was not quite as stunning as in some photos we’ve seen, but it certainly seemed far larger than usual, perhaps attributable to our proximity to the equator.

Once the sun had set, we caught a taxi back to the hotel. I did a quick load of laundry, hung the wet clothes all over my room to dry, changed clothes, and rejoined Athena and Belinda for a quick taxi ride back to Chinatown. We stopped at a fish and chips shop with a surprisingly impressive menu (salmon, snapper, shark, squid), but we just bought chips (fries). Then the three of us headed for Sun Pictures, “The Oldest Picture Garden in the World.” (Are there others?) By picture, they mean movies. They would have been showing silent films back when this place was built in 1913. The façade would lead a passerby to believe Sun Pictures was a relatively normal theater. But behind that façade, the roof only extends for a few feet, to cover the ticket office and a bit of wooden lattice work, and then ends. The “theater” is a broad, green yard framed by palm trees, completely open to the sky. Rows of deck chairs are lined up in front of the large outdoor screen. It’s quite wonderful. The movie was actually incidental to the experience. The heat of the day faded into what seemed cool in comparison. The air was fragrant from all the flowers. Stars were splashed brilliantly across the sky overhead. Absolutely delightful. The place was packed, with locals far outnumbering tourists. Great fun. Highly recommended.

We caught a taxi back to the hotel and said a final farewell. I stayed up another hour, ironing my clothes and organizing my luggage. But by 11:30, I was too tired to do any more, so I went to bed. (It was not just the fifteen days of camping that have worn me out; I’m still hurting a fair bit. Definitely think I broke a rib or two back in Kununurra.)

Anyway, it was a fine last day to this part of the adventure. And tomorrow, onward.

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Trip 3:Monday, September 4, Part 1

Up at sunrise. A moment’s excitement upon discovering a tarantula in the loo. There was a grasshopper, as well, but that was less daunting.

Headed alone to the beach for as long a walk as I could manage. I had until 9 a.m. at my leisure, but the tour was scheduled to end at 10, and we still had to drive to town. But that gave me a couple of hours to enjoy my surroundings. I was joined by wading birds, an egret, and sea eagles. Mud hoppers skipped across the mud. (Also known as mud skippers, these are fish that can actually breathe air.) Snails emerged from their shells and explored for food. Red rocks, black rocks, gray mud, blue water. Beautiful morning.

Mud Hopper

Layered Rock

Snails, large and small

I lingered on the beach till the last possible moment, then headed back to camp, to climb into the 4WD one last time.

Most of the gang was dropped off at the posh Mangrove Resort, but Athena, Belinda, and I continued on to the more modest, less expensive, but still very nice Tropicana. The yard was filled with flowers, particularly the wildly fragrant frangipani, so the place smelled heavenly.

We allowed ourselves half an hour for settling in and showering, and then the three of us met up and set off to see the sights. Our first stop was at the nearby Broome Historical Museum. It was a wonderful little museum, filled with relics, photos, and documents from Broome’s earliest settlement to the glory days of pearling through the devastation of World War II (Broome was bombed by the Japanese), and up to the present. There were artifacts from all the many peoples who have inhabited (and do still) the region: Aborigines, Europeans, Japanese, Malay, Indonesians. Delightful place, and astonishing history.

Leaving the museum, we walked on the road bordering the mangroves and beach. We continued to be amazed by the brilliance of the turquoise water and stopped frequently to photograph it.

We visited an art gallery and an upscale jewelry store (this stretch of coastline is famous for its huge, exceptionally white pearls, and they’re worth seeing even if they are too costly to consider), then continued toward Chinatown. The gum trees along the road were in bloom and were wonderfully fragrant. Ibises wandered on the court house lawn, and kites (the birds) soared overhead. We all commented that this was a good place to ease ourselves back into civilization, as there was enough of the exotic to make us feel that this was still an adventure.

Chinatown was a real shock. When I first visited, it was a quiet, sleepy area, even though it’s the center of town. The broad streets then were covered in red dust but otherwise featureless. There were no sidewalks. The cars parked somewhat randomly down the center of the street tended to be rusting, practical, and sporting protective bars to minimize damage when encountering kangaroos or water buffalo. The stores were very basic tin-roofed structures that were generally Chinese owned. Now, though still open and amiable, the area is very upscale, with nothing more than a couple of Chinese restaurants to give validity to the name “Chinatown.” Carnarvon Street now has sidewalks and a parkway covered with grass and dotted with palm trees. The street is lined with posh boutiques, souvenir shops, jewelry stores, health food stores, nail salons, tour operators, and delis serving quiche and mocha lattés. Wow! What a disappointment. I had so looked forward to the funky, rustic, multi-lingual Broome that I had been telling Belinda and Athena about before we arrived.

That said, at least it was a convenient disappointment. We browsed through a few shops, where both Belinda and Athena found gifts to buy for folks back home. Then we popped into the comfortable (air conditioned!!) and apparently popular Bloom’s Gourmet Deli, where I had iced coffee and the mixed salad plate (Greek, pasta, and potato). Athena asked if any of us had any sense of being in a remote corner of the Australian Outback. No. Well, at least not until we went to the restroom, which is a corrugated iron shack at the far side of the hot, dusty backyard.

One thing on Carnarvon Street that had not changed from my previous trip was Sun Pictures. I photographed it in the daylight, and we agreed to return this evening.

(For more on the changes in Broome, check out my earlier post on Broome Old And New. There, you can see contrasting photos of what I saw during my different visits.)

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September 3, Part 2

Derby is a wonderfully spread-out town, on the shore of King Sound. The streets are wide, the buildings low, and the dirt is red. There are lots of plants (including boabs, of course). It’s a strange, carelessly laid out little town that comes close to being quite attractive.

With a population just under five thousand, Derby is one of the three largest cities in the Kimberley (the others being Kununnura, which we visited earlier in the trip, and Broome, which is our destination this evening). Aside from boabs, the things for which Derby is most famous is its tides. The difference between low tide and high tide is 36 or more feet—the most extreme tides in Australia, and second only to the Bay of Fundy, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

We did a little grocery shopping while in town. It was fun to see what a fabulously eclectic, cosmopolitan selection there was in the warehouse-like grocery store, from health foods to Asian foods to European delicacies. Remarkable. The town may be remote, but that doesn’t mean people don’t still want to eat well.

We enjoyed lunch by the shore, near the jetty. The jetty, which stretches out across the mudflats at low tide, is a popular spot for watching the water rush toward shore as the tide comes in. After eating, we wandered a bit, partly to explore and partly to stretch our legs before getting back into the 4WD. A huge, black cockatoo watched us from atop a street lamp. I photographed the sign that advises against swimming. Unlike those at Windjana Gorge, the crocodiles here are the massive, dangerous saltwater crocodile. Stay out of the water—and even on shore, keep your eyes open.

Then we strolled out along the jetty, to see how far the mud flats extended, and to see boats stranded by the absent water. I also liked the current patterns left in the mud by the tide.

Then we were off again. We stopped to see the famous “prison boab”—a boab so massive that, in the old days, prisoners could be held in its hollow trunk until other arrangements could be made. Then we continued on to Broome.

The tires hummed as we traversed the two hundred kilometers of blacktop to the outskirts of Broome, where we turned onto a red dirt road for the 15 kilometers drive to the Broome Bird Observatory. We’re not here at a high-migration time, but this is considered one of the best places on earth for bird watching.

When the brilliant turquoise of the Indian Ocean suddenly burst onto our view, it was stunning. The contrast of the deep-red dirt, white sand, and turquoise water was wonderful. As we drove, we saw a white-breasted sea eagle perched in a tree, surveying the water, looking for dinner. Glorious creature.

After putting up our tents, we walked down to the beach, stopping to admire a stick insect near the path. Wonderful to see how well its camouflage works. If it hadn’t moved, we would never have seen it. On the beach, red rocks and red sand bordered gray mudflats and blue sea. The red of the cliffs was brilliant, and it was set ablaze by the lowering sun.

The tide was on its way out and, though we had hoped for a bit of a splash, it was leaving too fast to catch it across the sticky mud and puddled sand. So we just hiked along the beach and enjoyed the scenery: the sun on the red cliffs, the turquoise of the water, the weirdly worn black, tan, and red rocks so reminiscent, but on a smaller scale, of the rocks of Windjana Gorge—the ancient seabed lifted up.

There were thousands upon thousands of seashells. I managed to limit my collecting to two token specimens: a couple of angel wings (and those who know me will know how hard it would be for me to limit myself when collecting seashells). Then, before sunset, we headed through the graceful, fragrant, short trees along the shore, back to our campsite, where our first hot shower in a long time was greatly enjoyed.

It was another amiable evening. We exchanged addresses and began talking about saying good-bye. Because of the trees so close about us, we had a much-reduced view of the stars, but the sound of the ocean waves and the breeze whispering in the branches was fine compensation.

It was a somewhat later evening than usual. Though we were all tired, we were reluctant to end this last night with all of us together.

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