Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Down, downs and ups

At Karratha we watched a safety video to enable us to be issued with a permit for the private mines road to Tom Price which ran alongside the railway that runs for several hundred miles in to the Pilbara iron ore deposits. The ore trains are several km long and carry 23,000 tonnes at a time to the huge ships waiting at Karratha and Port Headland. Having enjoyed the peace and quiet of Millstream Chichester NP with good bush camping at Snake Creek and a Park's site at the old homestead, we stayed in Tom Price to give us time to do a tour of the world's largest iron ore open cut mine site - an awe inspiring operation that is driving the local economy at a break-neck speed.

The walk to the summit of Mt Bruce gave us a good view down in to another mining operation before we headed in to Karijini NP to explore the numerous impressive deep and red gorges that cut deep in to the landscape. The convoluted geology of Hammersley Gorge was remarkable after which we stayed at basic and rather over rated 'eco' camp site. This then gave us the chance to explore via ladders, handrails and scrambling the various other gorges that characterise the area. Some wading and swimming was required in the cold waters rendering the experience very similar to caving especially as in places the sky was totally obscured by the towering cliff sides. In the past fatalities have occurred and recue efforts have been prolonged due to the isloation and inaccessibility- the volunteer rescue services come from the mining sites and the roads are rough and slow with very poor communications. However it was all an amazing experience after which we moved on to the Dales camp ground near the Weano Gorge. This provided good walks as well including a sighting of large bats roosting in the trees, some lovely swimming pools and a chance to enjoy the hot sunshine.

After leaving Karijini we drove a fair way to stay at Indee Station en route to Port Hedland where we had ordered new brake pads for the van and spent the night on their workaday yard amidst 400,000 acres of outback running only 2000 cattle due to the drought.

In PH we picked up the pads but discovered whilst fitting them that we had a seized caliper cradle ( the cause of the premature wear) on one side, the same on the other plus a seized caliper itself. Working in a supermarket car park was less than ideal and a sheared bolt added to the fun. A small engineering company managed to remove the trapped shaft and I sourced a suitable bolt to effect a repair but the seized caliper was beyond our roadside ability. With replacements apparently only available from VW in Germany and taking 3 weeks, or from a motor factors in the UK which would need sending by air we were faced with a situation so returned to Indee for a rethink. Today we were able to use their workshop area to dismantle things again and in better conditions than a car park were in fact able to unseize the cradle, caliper and a handbrake cable putting us back on the road again against all expectations. I think the caustic substance used to disinfect the van at Sydney and applied by a powerful jet washer was the cause of the problem as I had overhauled all the brakes prior to the start of this trip.

Anyway we are now good to go so will head to Broome and then Darwin (still 1500 miles away) and see how the access to the Kimberley is following the late summer rains.

Piccies here and locations here.

Slides this month from the Oz Alps.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Coral coast capers.

After the change in plan and an extra night in Carnarvon we reached the delights of Coral Bay in good weather and were soon off to snorkel in the clear warm waters with an amazing variety of fish and marine life just yards offshore. A downpour late afternoon was followed that night by a mighty thunderstorm that tested the repair to our possum damaged roof - watertight thank goodness unlike a number of caravans who had left roof lights open in the humidity.

Moving on to Exmouth and the Cape Range NP we passed hundreds of large termitaria, lunched on the deserted beach near the wreck of the SS Mildura and then booked in at the campsite below the Vlaming Lighthouse.

Cape Range Park gave us the chance for even more rewarding snorkeling with a large ray or skate and a sea turtle providing fascinating images - Sarah also saw a metre long reef shark and now holds the 100m splash and paddle record. The ease of access, warm water and good visibility made for some memorable experiences.

Up in the hills we enjoyed a hot but rewarding 8km walk to Shothole Canyon and then stayed overnight at moving Girallia Station - flattened by a cyclone in 1999 the family rebuilt but have never really recovered and are now living on as hosts to a few campers, fishermen and the very occasional coach party in a vast area devoid of livestock. We were the only guests and were rewarded with a true outback sunset and a full orange moon rising soon after.

A long drive today has brought us near to Karratha in the Pilbara where Oz's resource boom in the shape of large iron ore mines and gas plants is well underway.

We have found a peaceful bush camp area on the coast decorated with the first croc warning signs we have seen so neither of us are likely to venture in to the sea again for a while despite the daytime temperatures reaching the mid thirties.

Finally after much mulling over and consideration of the numerous options we have decided not to return to Oz after this trip just yet. The uncertainty over visa extensions, shipping and carnet issues, expiring passports and the high mileage the van has covered means we will now return to the UK in September 2011, ship the van back, enjoy Christmas with family and then head to Southern Europe for the rest of the winter whilst a new base vehicle is on order.

Then it will be a conversion over the summer and probably another European based test trip before a return overseas in 2013 to include at some stage a return here in what should be a relatively youthful 4x4 that will enable us to do the remote bits of the 'Top End' we will miss this time.

It feels good to have made some decisions so we can now concentrate on our remaining 3 months here - up to Darwin and then back to Sydney via Alice Springs and Adelaide means we still have loads to look forward to.

Fishy pics here (I hope to be able to provide a link to some video I took soon) and the locations here

A slide show covering Tasmania (now a much colder place) is also included.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Rocks and shells, blocks and wells.

After the harsh but picturesque attractions of the Murchison Gorge we stayed at Kalbarri and spent a day exploring the sandstone cliffs and inlets leaving the bike at one lookout to enable us to do a one way cliff top walk.
A return south briefly took us to gorgeous Port Gregory passing a beta carotene works on the shore of the highly saline and bright pink Hutt Lagoon. Hutt River Province is a legal quirk of circumstance being a principality separate from Australia and exempt from its legislation and taxes. This arose from a dispute over wheat quotas forty years ago and Prince Leonard now aged 86 welcomes visitors to the homestead that also provides camping in the arid outback environment.
Hamelin Station on Shark Bay provided a memorable base from which to explore up to Denham visiting the old Hamelin Pools Telegraph Station and adjacent stromatolites. Also here was the remarkable quarry used to extract blocks of compressed shells used locally in construction. These same tiny shells form Shell Beach where they lie up to 10m deep and stretch around Shark Bay for over 100 km.
The shallow waters of Shark Bay contain huge areas of seagrass that support mantra rays, dugongs and a wide variety of other marine life - 4WD only tracks give the best access so we will have to return one day. However we were able to get to the old Peron Station which used to run thousands of sheep - the old woolshed and shearers accommodation stand by an artesian bore that produces 170,000 litres of water a day at 30 degrees C now used in a free standing hot tub.
A second night on the half million acre Hamelin Station that runs 10,000 sheep (do the math)* set us up for the journey north to Carnarvon where we stayed the night at Quobba Station on the coast with a memorable sunset after lunch in town and a look round the heritage precinct at One Mile Jetty.
Today we set off in heavy rain (a surprise after the last few weeks of scorching sunshine) for the Kennedy Ranges 150 miles inland but decided after an hour that there was every chance of the road being closed behind us as the downpour was torrential.
Thus we returned to a proper site in Carnarvon to do the mundane chores such as laundry, water refills, battery charging, shopping etc. and will shortly watch a DVD with the heater on for the first time in months : the Tropic of Capricorn is less than a hundred miles away so we expect this to be only a temporary unsettled spell........................

* one ewe per 50 acres!

Click for Photos and our Whereabouts.

The slide show returns to the start of this trip with NSW in October

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Perth and North

After a good meal out on the Sunday I used the efficient public transport network to get in to Perth on Monday and visit the Immigration Department. No extension of our current visa is possible but if we return home as arranged in September we will be able to come back in October for at least 3 months and request permission to stay longer so that is the current plan.

I enjoyed the botanical gardens of Perth before returning to Merriwa for a barbie.

Tuesday saw a set of tyres fitted to the van before I enjoyed the good beaches that run north of Perth and then called in on the friends at Kallaroo that we had made way back in NSW last November.
They gave me the locals tour of Freo including the Maritime Museum and Round House, coffee was enjoyed overlooking the harbour and we returned along the coast to admire the exclusive properties that now occupy the land looking out to Rottnest. We dined well at a smart marina and I picked up loads of sound advice for our journey north.
Thursday started with the collection of Sarah's repaired bike, a shop to replenish stores and a trip to the airport to collect the lady herself who arrived dead on time and was soon through the formalities. We then drove to a campsite at Guilderton which provided showers, laundry etc. and a good beach to walk on.

Our progress north took us up the coast with a visit to the remarkable and surprisingly extensive Pinnacles before we stayed the night at Lake Indoon a few miles inland which was completely dry - WA has been the driest part of Oz and is in need of substantial rain. During the night a possum ripped a hole in our canvas roof to steal a whole loaf of bread without waking us!

After visiting the heritage village of Greenhough we called in at Geraldton for lunch before visiting the excellent maritime museum with its displays relating to the sinkings of the Batavia and Sydney.

Coronation Beach was too busy for us but just a couple of miles up the road Oakabella station homestay camping was perfect - only two other guests, excellent facilities and a chance to repair the roof with spray glue and a recycled T shirt.

Today we have walked the Loop Track in very hot conditions at Kalbarri NP with 'roos, lizards, feral goats and a billion flies for company! It was an excellent walk around a large meander in the Murchison River flowing slowly through a deep red sandstone gorge.

Kalbarri itself provides opportunities for more walks and possibly some snorkeling so we may stay a couple of days.

Piccies as ever and locations as usual.

The return of the slideshow commences with the bottom end of NZ's South Island from 2010.