Perth to Broome Road Trip
3rd – 15th December
Up bright and early to join the rest of the group on my Western Exposure 10 day trip from Perth up the west coast to Broome. Having never travelled to Western Australia before, and having heard good things about Monkey Mia, Coral Bay and Broome, I was looking forward to the experience. However, what transpired was more like a 10 day intensive Glastonbury training course! (minus the mud and music but with added red dust, heat and flies). The 21-strong group consisted of 7 Brits, a couple of Irish lads, 3 Japanese/Taiwanese and the rest were made up of Europeans.
Our tour guide, Tamantha (nicknamed Tammy or “Tim Tam”) turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever known (sergeant major, big sister and Fairy Godmother rolled into one) and this fact, combined with the great camaraderie of the entire group ultimately made the trip not only endurable but a memorable and enjoyable experience.
After my initial group introduction, a voice piped up from the back of the bus “Blimey, I’ve come all this way, only to come across an “Essex Girl”!”. It turned out that Pete (our resident “Essex Boy” not only came from Brentwood but lives in the house next door to where my dad lived!). Sue, my “roomy” and travelling companion from Worcester, proved great company throughout the trip – our two person “Book Club”/Counselling/Personal Development Sessions were a highly enjoyable way of whiling away the relentless hours on the bus.
Our bus/come truck made mincemeat of the first 500kms to Horrocks, via the Nambung National Park and the weird and wonderful Pinnacles Desert – made up of limestone pillars (basically the gaps between ancient forests which had long since disappeared – or rival hunters turned to stone depending on which culture you believe).
Next stop was to sand board down the massive sand dunes at the appropriately named Sandy Cape on the way to Geraldton, our first overnight base. The cosy hostel was right on the sea front and after a quick stir fry and a look at the eagles nesting on the beach, we all collapsed into bed.
Up very early next morning for out trek to the Kalbarri National Park to explore Murchison Gorge, Natures Window and Z Bend Gorge. Some chose to abseil down the gorge, but we found it more fun watching the aerobatics as our tour mates stumbled and spun round on their descent. Only 350km on the clock today to our destination of Denham, via the pretty shell beach (no prizes for guessing how it got it’s name). Another cool hostel on the beach, but felt too exhausted to go to the thermal springs. The only hot water I could face that night was doing the washing up. We did get to see the baby roo that had been rescued by the hostel owner though – very cute!
An early appointment with the famous dolphins at Monkey Mia (have they never heard of “lie ins”, the greedy beggars!).
Apparently the town had become famous after a local had started feeding the dolphins that subsequently turned up in droves, which in turn attracted busloads of tourists to see the spectacle. Environmentalists finally discouraged the practise, as the lazy mammals eventually couldn’t be bothered to go out hunting naturally when they had food on tap so as a compromise they only get fed 3 times a day with a minimum amount of food! A case of money over principles if ever I saw one! Still, it was entertaining viewing watching the dolphins sitting in the water with their mouths open at the ready. Even more entertaining was the cheeky emus that helped themselves to our breakfast, while we were watching.
On to Carnarvon to see the amazing Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool (didn’t they have a string of hits in the early 80’s, you’re thinking) – but no…they are in fact the origins of life on earth, responsible for creating earth’s atmosphere and allowing other life forms (including us) to develop.
I have to admit the lumpy brown rocks were less than impressive, but you had to give them their due. Carnarvon was also known for being the site of a NASA satellite tracking dish, made famous by the quirky film “The Dish” starring Sam Neill.
By the end of the day, and another 550kms on the milometer, we had reached Coral Bay to explore the delights of the Ningaloo Reef. I was tempted to go diving (annoyingly the divers saw reef sharks, manta rays and turtles), but decided a day of rest on the beach was called for and spent a relaxing few hours topping up my tan and catching up on e-mails. The following day’s excursion (a mere 150km) to Exmouth included several hours snorkelling in the exquisite Turquoise Bay, a quick stop at the Vlahming Head Lighthouse (purportedly the site of the first European landing on Australian soil) and a drive through the Cape Range National Park.
The next day disaster struck, when the air con in the main part of the bus decided to give up the ghost in the 40 plus degree temperatures.
One by one we all started to pass out, but I got in quick and pulled out the “age” card and secured a place up front with Tammy in the fully functioning air-conditioned cab. Only another 500kms to go before our camp for the next few nights in the Karijini National Park! Camping, outside in 40 degrees of heat…miles from anywhere… millions of flies…3 days of trekking up and down gorges…basic loos and limited showers…even more limited alcohol….I couldn’t wait!! I was beginning to wish I had feigned sickness and ditched out in the iron ore mining town of Tom Price our last stop in civilization.
Arriving too late to care, we chucked dinner together and retired to our tents for a hot and sweaty night. I must have been too exhausted to notice the tent pole collapsing on us in the middle of the night, and Sue struggling to re-erect it. The next morning the flies were out in force – I can’t describe how irritating they are, especially when trying to eat.
They seem to go for moisture so are constantly trying to attach themselves to your nose, your mouth and your eyes – yuk! I began to wish I had invested in a fly net, despite resembling Ena Sharples on acid, they seemed to do the trick.
The discomfort unfortunately detracted from our forays out into the Gorges. Trekking for hours up and down narrow ledges (I wasn’t aware that I had signed up for a crash course in rock climbing) in incredibly high temperatures was not my idea of fun, even if we were rewarded with nice dips in refreshingly cool water holes at the end of them. I have to admit all the areas we visited in the Hammersley Range: Fortesque Falls, Fern Pool, Circular Pool, Weano and Hancock Gorges were incredible picturesque, but quite frankly, once you’ve seen one gorgeous gorge, you’ve seen them all.
The experience wasn’t enhanced by the Great Camera Disaster on Day 2. Pete, our resident Essex Boy, offered to carry all our cameras in his “Dry Bag” as we had to swim our way through to Kermit’s Pool. A dozen completely flooded and knackered cameras later, he wasn’t our favourite person that day. We had to rely on those sensible people who either had waterproof cameras or had left their cameras behind, to take group photos for the remainder of the trip. He was forgiven….just!
Only one more night to go, thankfully, and our 500 km plus trip to Pardoo Station (a working cattle station) took us via Port Headland, where we were lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins splashing amongst the freighters in the harbour. That night we were promised a proper bed, air-conditioned rooms and even a swimming pool (we didn’t care how many sheep we would be sharing it with). Most of us (some had already succumbed to heat stroke) had opted to swap buses and had scrounged a lift with another group in their fully functional air-conditioned bus –luxury!
A dip in the pool was a much needed treat and lifted my spirits for the final day ahead.
The last 1000kms (a doddle – my drives back from Edinburgh will seem like a piece of cake from now on) to our final stop in Broome was broken up by a breakfast stop at the fabulous sands of 80 mile beach – although as the tide was out, it felt like it was 80 miles to the sea – some of us never made it! Never were a group of people so glad to make it back to relative civilization. A sensible few of us had chosen the sterile but clean and comfortable hostel in Broome on Cable Beach and settled in for a few well deserved days of r ‘n’r at the Beaches of Broome Resort.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I think that if I’d had known in advance how much time we would be spending on the bus with nothing to look at apart from red dust, Kamikaze kangaroos, that seemed to wait on the roadside for the odd bus to come along, before launching themselves in front of it (??) and the ever fascinating “Tammy Facts” from our knowledgeable and very entertaining guide, I think I would be reluctant to ever travel in Western Australia again.
However, I must admit that this trip was one of the most memorable episodes of my entire travels, mainly due to the highly amusing abrupt “stops” along the way to view a tree/a lizard in the middle of the road/a mad Japanese cyclist making the journey on a pushbike from Perth to Darwin/the dubious soundtrack of Spice Girls and Abba at full blast and above all the great group of people I had the pleasure of sharing the ordeal with.
After initially being treated somewhat suspiciously by the “other” group (in their air-conned bus) we finally bonded with a few of them in Broome, including their very charming tour leader, Mark.
It seemed that our timing was good, as the second day in Broome the weather broke and we were treated to a sample of what the “wet” season was like with a day of torrential downpours. The following day was spent scootering around to Gantheaume Point to see the dinosaur tracks followed by a fun but not- so-refreshing dip battling the waves in the bath temperature sea, followed by a stunning sunset watching the camels being led along the beach. The day was topped off by a wonderful evening at the oldest open-air cinema in the world, watching a great Aboriginal film “Bran Nue Dae” to the sounds of crickets chirping and frogs croaking. Plus…I now felt confident that I could cope with the worst that Glastonbury could throw at me!