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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Oz: Glub Glub!

Deep River Crossing lived up to its name!  This is us crossing it to reach El Questro Gorge, on the first day this year it opened.  Dicey!  No way were we opening the window to get a shot.  This was taken from inside, through our windshield.  El Questro Wilderness Park, Kimberleys, Western Australia.  
Who-hoo!  We were the very first non-rangers to hike the Kimberley's excellent El Questro Gorge this year!!!  

Purnululu, better known for the BungleBungles, was closed due to overly high water crossings from a particularly wet rainy season when we wanted to enter the park.  We pushed on to El Questro.  Western Australia, The Kimberleys.
One day earlier, and Deep River Crossing access to El Questro Gorge was too deep; three days ago was the first day El Questro opened to the public.  After being unable to visit Purnululu (aka the BungleBungles), Windjana, and much of Gibb River Road, it was nice to be in the right place at the right time* -- before the crowds!

*In Broome, there were a number of activities that didn't open until May 1st.

Pandanus, palms and vivid red gorge rock walls make for an unusual ecosystem so far inland.
El Questro Gorge entrance.  Kimberleys, Western Australia.
With temperatures hitting near 100 degrees F by mid-morning, we were on the road by 6:40 am, coffee already downed, trail pack loaded up with water, breakfast and swimsuits.

Once again, our Land Cruiser (and Wayne's driving) rocked!  

Deep Creek Crossing water level came up above our Cruiser's running boards!  We are highly impressed with the door seals!  Nary a drop inside.

As the first on the trail, we were on the lookout for spiderwebs.  These almost communal
webs intrigued us.  We were happy to side-step them.
El Questro Gorge, Western Australia.
Shortly after passing that gauntlet, we hit the trail at 7:15 am.  We were the first vehicle at the trailhead, in a place where hikers 4-wheel drive, drive, not walk to the trailheads.

There were few flat points on the trail; the rubble of rock required close attention to avoid
twisting an ankle.  The larger rock surfaces were often smooth, made slippery with
a light sandy coating.  El Questro Gorge.  Western Australia.
El Questro's "halfway pool" is about a 2-hour roundtrip hike.  That's a Class 4 - challenging - hike, and it's a Class 5 - most challenging hike  -- to the trail's end and a second pool.  We opted for "halfway pool." We knew by the time returned to our vehicle, despite our refreshing dip at halfway pool, we'd be totally sweaty all over again.

Lovely Halfway Pool in El Questro Gorge, complete with a small waterfall.
This is where we stopped, swam and made our way back from.
Stopping early enough gave us a chance to cool off again at Zebedee Springs, which was only accessible from 7 am - noon.  Zebedee Springs is an easy 15-minute hike -- easy enough to still feel refreshed by the time you're done and back at your vehicle.  heck - the trail's even mostly shaded!  (More on Zebedee Springs in a future post.)

To continue El Questro Gorge's hike required swimming across Halfway Pool, scaling these rocks,
and scrambling across more boulders to reach the end.  This couple, tossing gear to each other,
completed the full hike,  They confirmed it was a tough one.
When we finished our El Questro Gorge hike, and before glugged our way through Deep Creek Crossing again, Wayne said, wistfully, "Maybe you could get a picture of the Cruiser crossing Deep Creek Crossing."

Much as I too would've loved to see it, 
 as the one who would have to wade across with my camera, "Nope," I replied, emphatically.

"I was only half-kidding," Wayne said.  I knew he was also half serious.
Fish in Halfway Pool, El Questro Gorge, Kimberleys, Western Australia.


It wasn't until afterward I discovered Wayne didn't intend my photography to require a swim; he would've made a third crossing, to come back and pick me up.  Ah well.  There's a limit to how many times one should tempt fate, and test our Cruiser's door seals.

Ferny pool along El Questro Gorge trail to Halfway Pool.
Location Location
We were in El Questro, from April 16-19, 2017; it's in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.  We hiked El Questro Gorge April 18th, and are currently in Katherine, in Australia's Northern Territory.

Entering Australia's Northern Territory, from Western Australia.
Up Next
More on El Questro in future posts!  El Questro was our favorite stop in Australia -- the perfect end to our Australian outback adventures. The next week or less we'll drive to Brisbane (over 3,000 km from here).   Once in Brisbane, we plan to spend a week there, to connect with friends, sell our Land Cruiser, wrap up our loose ends in Australia, enjoy Brisbane, and then fly back to the US.  

There will continue to be blog catch-up posts as well as substantial blog rework to make it easier and more informative for anyone wanting to follow in our footsteps.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Oz: Broome - Camel Rides & Other "Must-Dos"

Camel trains on Cable Beach at sunset; quintessential Broome -- at least for most tourists.  Western Australia.
These days, tourism is Broome's economic lifeblood.  The tourist season really picks up with the official start of the dry season, in May.  As a result, in April, when we arrived, not all attractions are open.  That's probably a reasonable trade-off for getting here before the crowds.  

The Broome area is far more multicultural than what we've encountered elsewhere in Australia -- surprising for a relatively small town in a moderately remote area.  It's surrounded by Aboriginal communities. There's also a strong Japanese and Chinese cultural influence, in large part to Broome's former pearling heyday.  I doubt Australia's shepherding Afghans and their camels were part of Broome's early post-Aboriginal immigrant culture.

And yet...
Camel's work done for the day, they head down the sidewalk to wherever they call come in Broome.  Note those little pouches
by their tails?  It's a dung bag -- an attempt to keep them a little more tidy.  Western Australia.
Broome's best-known tourist draw is camel rides on its famed Cable Beach, which began in far more recent times, in 1991.  Many claim Broome's Cable Beach camel rides are a "must-do".  Yet I concur with Taz Liffeman's professed lack of enthusiasm for that particular experience.  In her words...
This guy's job was to follow the camels and make all they left behind were footprint.  Hard to get a s---ier job than that!
"Personally, I’ve never much understood the allure of gallivanting about on a camel. They smell, they slobber, they’re toothy and they spit. Their gait is bumpy, their demeanour grumpy, their seat humpy and the one in front of me always farts too much."

However, Taz did take the camel ride and I did and will not.  I put camel rides into the category of "you don't know what you're missing" can really only be truly true if you do choose to miss the experience.

That doesn't mean I'm not still a sucker for wanting to get that trite-but-cool-even-though-everybody-does-it silhouette photo of camels caravans on the beach at sunset.

Besides, Cable Beach is pretty darned nice.  You can take your 4-wheel-drive on it -- which we did.  
Telltale patterns left by ghost crabs on Cable Beach, Broome. Western Australia.
Cable Beach is a long, broad, mostly firm, relatively white sandy beach that oh-so-gradually deepens.  It invites wading, though between the threat of jellies (irukanjis, which are tiny enough to be hard to spot and seriously bad news and while not currently an epidemic here now, we heard there had been some recent incidents) and "salties" (crocodiles), kept me from embracing it as whole-heartedly as I normally would.  The fact that no one else on the beach on our first trip there was sticking a toe in gave me pause, even though the day was hot and sunny, and the water temperature was pleasant.

Not only were the camels great fun to watch, we got a kick out of watching a couple attempting to teach their two dogs to surf.
On our second trip to Cable beach, this couple and their surfing dogs were the only folks we saw in the water.  Broome, Australia.
Best of all, camels or not, the sunsets were spectacular!  We even saw a "green flash," a more commonly visible phenomenon now that we're officially back in the tropics again.

However, if camel rides are your thing, there are several companies who offer them, Sundowner, Broome Camel Safaris, and Red Sun Camels.  Their longer ~45 min/1 hour sunset rides cost $85-90 AUD for adults, less for kids and less still for "lap sitters."
Camel dismounts didn't look easy.  Broome, Western Australia.
Other Broome area attractions include 
There's a narrow point of entry and exit for Cable Beach 4-wheel drives and camels.  After sunset it's exodus time,
but camels have the right of way.  Broome, Western Australia.
Location Location
We're currently in Broome, Western Australia, population ~16,000 -- big enough for a two groceries --Coles, Woolworths, plus McDonald's and Dominoes.  We returned for one last night to check out Broome's "Staircase to the Moon,"  an event that happens 6 times a year.  Right time, right place, wrong weather.  But we enjoyed a stroll at the night markets there for the event.

Up Next
After Broome, weather permitting, we're bound for Darwin and the Northern portion of the Kimberleys and El Questro.  Our route from here until when we leave Australia is still up in the air.
Camels at sunset on the beach, Broome tourism at its surreal best.    Western Australia.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Oz: Perfect Antidote to the Nullarbor - Cape Grand National Park

Clear, calm wade-able turquoise waters of Cape Le Grand National Park's Lucky Bay, about a 45 minute drive
from Esperance, Western Australia.  This area is as vibrant as the Nullarbor is almost monochromatic.
While most of the Lucky Bay beach is a lovely, easy to walk white sand,
this particular section of the beach is "fragrant" with dried seaweed.  Cape Le Grand, Western Australia.
After three days of dusty roads, muted colors, flies, flies, more flies and flatland, we shortcut Australia's iconic Nullarbor Plain at Balladonia Roadhouse, catching 200 km of dirt road (~125 mi) to the Shire of Esperance, and its spectacular Western Australia coastline.  

That shortcut saved us about 4 hours of drive time and landed us back in the land of milk and honey with green pastures, refreshing sea breezes, turquoise waters, white sands, picture-perfect waves the stuff of surfer's wet dreams, and more pragmatically, regular grocery stores, and affordable (for Australia) fuel.


One more reason we stopped in Esperance - to get our tire fixed!  We had a slow leak which turned out to be caused by an embedded nail.  It was fixed with a plug a the local Beauparis Tire shop and seems to be holding up well now.
The air compressor was a loan from a fellow Lucky Bay camper.
We drove a good portion of the 38 km scenic drive (~24 miles), where it was hard not to stop at every pullout (and there was probably more than 1 every kilometer) on the Great Ocean Drive (not to be confused with the better-known and far more crowded Great Ocean Road in Victoria).  That day, we discovered the sea breezes were a bit too brisk at the beach level.  After a light sand-basting, we stuck to a brief walk rather than lounging on the beach.

It all worked out well as we arrived in in Cape Le Grand National Park with time to set up, sup and do dishes before dark.  We chose Lucky Bay camp, as we heard it was both beautiful and a place where kangaroos liked to hang out on the beach. 
Our Land Cruiser on the beach at Lucky Bay, Cape Le Grand National Park, Western Australia.
We set up and still had time to drive the beach (you are allowed to drive directly on the beach with 4-wheel-drive), walk and even check out the 'roos contentedly chewing grass while sprawled in the sand.   (Note:  this is not our first rodeo with 'roos in the wild -- more on kangaroos in a future post).
Kangaroo chomping on grass in the sand at Lucky Bay beach, Cape Le Grand National Park, Western Australia.
The next morning I couldn't resist getting an early start to check our the area.  By dawn, I was on the trail.  For a great summary of Cape Le Grand's Coastal Trail, click here.
These stone sentinels above the Lucky Bay campground looked blood red in the dawn light.  In daylight, they're predominantly gray.  Cape Le Grand National Park, Western Australia.
Sunrise on the Cape Le Grand National Park Coastal Trail.  Western Australia.
While Cape Le Grand's Coastal Trail often loses sight of the coast as it traverses the rocky shore, the rocks
make a show of their own in the dawn's early light.
More  fabulous rock formations on Cape Le Grand's Coastal Trail, as it paralleled the coast through undulating hills. 
At dawn, I had the trail to myself!  Western Australia.
Green, blue, red, yellow, Cape Le Grand's Coastal Trail at dawn is a kaleidoscope of color.
Just after sunrise we were sipping our coffee, and getting ready for another hike, this time to the top of Frenchman Peak.  The climb is relatively short (~2 hours total including the return), but quite steep, a bit of nerve-wracking rock scramble.  It's a beautiful hike, with gorgeous rocky formations, unusual plant life, some stunning blossoms.  Of course, it offers a fabulous panoramic view from the top.
The easy part of the Frenchman Peak trail, before the trail gets steeper
and more bouldery.  Cape Le Grand Park, Western Australia.
The wind picked up with some ferocity just as we began making our way back down.  We were glad we did the hike early, as we could understand why there were signs recommending not hiking the summit in strong winds!
These straw-like flowers that looked like little licks of flames between the gray, tan and crystal-veined
rock crags of Cape Le Grand's Frenchman Peak.
Some other Frenchman's Peak hikers told us they preferred Thistle Cove, which they said offered every bit as beautiful a beach, and excluded the deep piles of dried seaweed on a portion of the shoreline at Lucky Bay.  Ah well.  We were delighted with Lucky Bay -- especially after our dusty Nullarbor parking lot campsites (there is no camping at Thistle Cove), and can add Thistle Cove to our if-we-return-here wish list, along with Hellfire Bay (also not a camping site, day-use only).

On the way out of Cape Le Grand National Park there was yet another treat in store.  Flocks of emus wandering loose in the green, green grass.  It's hard to not be fascinated with the giant, gangly non-flying kissing cousins to the ostrich.  We're grateful they survived "The emu wars."

Two emus from the flock walking in tandem in the green, green fields of Esperance, Western Australia.
Blue skies.  Clean air.  Clear water.  Great hiking.  Far fewer tourists than in our earlier travels.  We could hardly wait to explore more of the Western Australian coast.  Good thing -there's a lot of it!
Cape Le Grand National Park offers a glorious green and blue contrast to the almost monochromatic Nullarbor pallet.
This lofty panoramic view is from Frenchman Peak
Location Location We crossed the Nullarbor, from March 11-13, 2017.  After much ooh-ing and ahhh-ing over the Esperance Coastline, we made it to Cape Le Grand National Park, where we overnighted and spent the next morning before moving on.

Up Next
We are currently in Broome and have yet to figure out our next stop as we continue our clockwise tour of Australia.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Oz: Why Did the Emu Cross the Road?

Exmouth (Ningaloo Reef area) Western Australia; where traffic jams may be caused by emus.
We were amused watching an emu stop traffic with its leisurely stroll across Exmouth’s main drag. Eventually, one of the car drivers got impatient and leaned on their horn. Cars began moving forward and the emu decided it was time to finish its crossing.
This emu was perfectly happy to take its time as it ambled across the 4-lane highway that traversed Exmouth.   Western Australia.
The emu headed our way, towards Exmouth’s visitor center. It cut behind the building, though it stopped short of the emu muster sign. There was a plumber working on an outdoor water main, and water bubbled up from one of his work areas.

The emu decided it made an excellent watering hole, and drank deeply.
Ahhh!  This emu at last found its drinking hole in Exmouth.  We filled up ourselves at the potable water station in the same parking lot as there are few places it's available when you're in the bush.  Western Australia.  
Australia is a parched country.

The emu crossed the road ... for water!  
Maybe the emu just stopped short of its muster sign... a 100 meters or so
in the same Exmouth Visitor Center parking lot.  Western Australia.
Location Location
We passed through Exmouth between March 31st and April 2nd, 2017, on our way into Cape Range National Park, and saw the emu on our way in. This post which was written in Port Hedland.

Up Next
We expect to arrive in Broome in 2 days.  After that, we'll continue on our clockwise tour of Australia’s ocean of land.We're hoping it's not too wet to drive Gibbs River Road, but are sure to enjoy the Kimberleys regardless. Our goal is to complete tour in August.  



Sunday, April 2, 2017

Oz: Weird Animal Encounters, Part 3

Kookaburra at a more comfortable distance from our campsite.Leeuwin Natl Park, Boranup campsite, Western Australia.
Leeuwin Natl Park, Boranup campsite, Western Australia

There I was, spreading out all our victuals for dinner prep, when suddenly “WWWHHHHRRRrrr.” 

Something about the size of a child’s football – I wasn’t quite sure what – missiled past my face and perched on the picnic table only about a foot from my face, but just out of my range of clear vision. Before I could make out what it was, Wayne started laughing his ass off.

Still startled, I turned. My eyes focussed… on a plump kookaburra staring impertinently back at me, and eyeing the pork chops I’d planned to cook for supper.

While I wasn’t sure if raw pork was a possible kookaburra delicacy but I wasn’t about to share our dinner makings.

“Gahhhhh!” I squawked, waving my hands menacingly between it and our pork chops. The kookaburra took the hint, hopping onto a nearby tree to continue its shrewd observation. It remained unperturbed while I walked back to our Land Cruiser, grabbed my camera and clicked off a few shots of it. I’m sure Wayne wished he’d had a camera to capture my startled expression; the kookaburra smirking nearby.

Our visitor was later joined by another kookaburra, their telltale laughter (click here to download a 5.5 MB file of their "song") echoing through the campsite (click here for the classic Ozzie song about kookaburra), while we ate our supper in otherwise relative peace as no bird got remotely that close again.

Of our Ozzie weird animal close encounters – our first with a LARGE spider (click here for that), our second with mouse starting in at us from our windshield (click here for that) – this third encounter was the funniest and least harmful to any of us.

What next? Australia’s great outdoors -- expect the unexpected!
Kookaburra calling cards, left on our picnic table… for the next unwary camper. Leeuwin Natl Park, Boranup campsite, Western Australia.
Location Location
This post is a recent flashback to our March 18, 2017 stop at Leeuwin Natl Park, Boranup campsite, Western Australia, between Pemberton and Bunbury, before we got to Perth.

Up Next

We are currently at Tom Price, at the entrance to Karijini National Park. After Karijini, we’ll head to Broome as we continue our clockwise tour of Australia’s ocean of land.