What’s the etiquette when you’ve squeezed round a blind corner of a narrow chasm and find four people coming the other way ? Oh, and three of them are 2 metres up the gorge walls walking like spiders to keep out of the icy waters below. There was an awkward few seconds and smiles before we all decided to keep on going in the direction we were heading in. We didn’t even need to duck, as we stayed in the water, and they inched their way forward way above our heads.
We were in the spectacularly beautiful Karajini National Park. The red, iron ore filled, rocks with their sparse covering of spiky, golden spinifex grass were lovely but not that dissimilar to the surrounding countryside. What made Karajini special was its gorges. Unseen, until you were almost falling down their sheer sides, we looked down on an oasis over a 100 m below. Often just a few metres across, the red sides could be read like a history book. Millions of years ago under a shallow sea the layers built up a little each year to form the sedimentary rocks we saw below us. Where the rock layers had split horizontally you could still see the ripples and bubbles that had formed on the warm sea’s muddy bottom.
Climbing down to the bottom of Dale’s Gorge we found ourselves amongst lush green reeds and tinkling streams. There were three very different waterfalls, with the water trickling down the russet rock. Lucy, yet again proving she is the bravest and hardiest member of the family, opted to swim in the icy turquoise waters under two of the falls. Stepping stones through the stream took us along the bottom of the gorge for a couple of kilometres. It was hard to concentrate on the slippery rocks and narrow ledges under our feet as we kept on gazing up to marvel at the sheer brick red walls on either side of us.
It was the following day that we discovered our favourite gorge, Hancock, where we had the tight squeeze with the backpackers. We had descended down the steep sides on huge steps and ladders. Just a few metres across at its widest point, it was cool even in the middle of the day. We scampered along the narrow ledge of rocks at the side of the gorge, as the walls got closer together. Just a few hundred metres from the end of the walk, the path along the sides out of the stream ran out. It looked like it was a thigh high cold wade for the next bit….brrr…chilly. Thankfully, as we came around the corner the sun was warming the next section but it looked like it would be a swim or very slippery climb to the next bit. Lucy and I opted for the cold swim, Steve the high road and Alisha decided to sit in the sun and keep an eye on the backpack. Further on was a blind corner with a cascade of water over the rocks, the walls were just a metre apart. We shimmied our bottoms over the rocks to make the short drop down into a shallow pool, which is where we met the human spiders inching their way forward above us trying to keep out of the water. We were completely wet by then so splashed our way underneath them. At the end was Kermit’s Pond, possibly named after the frog because of its lovely green colour. Steve swam across and could see another series of cascades and pools but sadly that was the end of where you were allowed to go. Returning to Alisha in the sunny spot, we warmed up with a brisk hike to the top.
Three days before Karajini we had left Broome, the charming beachside town where we had spent a night to restock. The drive south was both very long and boring. Driving around a country this size we are accustomed to big distances, the hours on the road are usually made up for by the lovely scenery. However there were no such distractions on the road south just dry, flat bush. So it was a nice surprise when we pulled off the road to Cape Keraudren. It was a beautiful local nature park with basic camping right on the rocks overlooking the sea. Protruding into the sea, we watched the sun set on one side of the truck and the sunrise on the other. Unconcerned Red Kangaroos hopped amongst the spinflex grass. The following day we moved to another lovely spot at the edge of a white sandy beach and went for long walks, while the girls cooked up imaginary dishes from their finds on the beach. Over the previous week the weather had changed from a hot and sticky 36 degrees when we were first in Broome to a more manageable 28 during the day, with cool nights. Heading south we’ve noticed winter just starting to creep up on us.
After Karajini, we had two long days of driving to get to Exmouth, our first stop on the Ningaloo reef. The iron ore that colours the amazing scenery in this part of Western Australia, is a valuable asset. Mining is big business out here, located a distance off the road we didn’t really get to see it. Apart from the huge accommodation blocks made of hundreds of portacabins in the few towns for the fly-in workers. The roads were excellent as lots of huge Road Trains transport the ore to the port. Road trains are huge lorries with up to 4 trailers attached, in this part of the country they are up to 60m long! Each trailer can have a double set of 12 wheels, with the cab that is 25 axles. A total of 98 tyres per train! No wonder the first thing we see the drivers do in the rest stops is walk around the rig, checking all the wheels. As well as passing them coming the other way, Steve also had to contend with them overtaking us. As their top speed is 100km an hour they are far faster than us, we tend to keep to a more sedate 80kph on good roads. It was rather scary watching them bearing down on us in the mirror and then overtake just feet away from me in the passenger seat. Thankfully the roads were pretty straight and empty.
We had a couple of nights breaking the journey in remote roadside rest stops with just the rumble of the road trains, like a lullaby, to send us to sleep. The second night’s stop had a huge number of caravans in it, even though it completely in the middle of nowhere. Beside a dry river bed it had a tar pull in; some long-drop loos; a dump station and lots of paths off the back with flat, shady spots for parking. It wasn’t the most exciting spot but for a roadside stop it was clean and quite pretty. Obviously the “grey nomads” thought the same thing as there were over 30 caravans there and we were one of the last to pull in – at 3.30pm. I don’t think it was worth pulling in early so you could spend the day there. The other bizarre perk of Barradale stop was a burger bus, we wondered where it came from as there is absolutely nothing on the road for hundreds of kilometres. For a change we went for breakfast the following morning, the bus had stalled 20 metres away from its parking place. Three of us pushed the bus to its parking place keen to get our morning coffee which the lady kindly gave us for free. It turned out she was from a neighbouring station and had seen a business opportunity with all the caravans. The coffee was great too.