East Kimberley Roadtrip

5 06 2010

Took a few days off over last weekend to head east. The better half has been wanting to check out the annual Kimberley Moon festival in Kununurra for a a while now, so we finally blacked out some dates and made the trip.

“The Moon” is essentially the finale to the 2 week long Ord Valley Muster, a showcase of all things East-Kimberley, and culminates in a Saturday night concert  in the largest town in the region, Kununurra. This years headline acts included country star Sarah Storer and The Voice himself, John Farnham.

Grabbed a Patrol 4WD from work on Thursday and struck out around 09:30. Got as far as Willare Bridge near Derby before being held up on the side of the road for half an hour while a roadcrew performed maintenance on the one-lane bridge.

After that, it was a smooth drive straight through to Halls Creek, nearly 700km away from home, stopping only for fuel at Fitzroy Crossing (see previous  post “The Crossing”). Leaving Halls Creek, noticed the Patrol wasn’t running quite right, lacking power and not wanting to climb over 3000 rpm. Just what you need when passing 53m long road-trains! Put it down to a blocked fuel filter and kept going, hoping we’d make Kununurra no problems.

My mate J, the pilot who came over from the UK last year chasing work is now based at Halls Creek, so was great to catch up with him briefly that night for dinner and a few ales.

Friday it was on to Kununurra, normally about 3 hours on, but the fuel filter was getting worse and ended up affecting the drive further, eventually completely stalling the Patrol about 40kms out from Kunnunurra, in the rain, where we had no mobile (cell) coverage. Fortunately, it did start again after a minute or so, and we managed to nurse it into Kununurra, where even more luckily there was a Nissan dealer who actually had a new filter in stock and I could swing into my works Kununurra depot to have it fitted. No more car dramas after that thank goodness.

Saturday was spent in Kununurra, checking out the markets and local shops. At about 5000 people, its about a third the size of Broome, but as this weekend is probably the towns biggest of the year, there were plenty of visitors about. The skies kept threatening rain, incredibly unusual for anywhere in the Kimberley in late May, and there were fears that it might even rain on the big night, but it all turned out ok.

While still slightly overcast, to the put of there being no actual moon to be seen at this years “Moon”, everyone had an enjoyable, dry night. We packed a few eats, some wine and beers and a picnic rug and joined most of the town and visitors on the grassy banks of the Ord River for the concert. There was a corporate area where the likes of MPs (Julia Gillard) and other vips and people who thought $500 a head was worth paying for a sit-down black-tie dinner from where to watch the show, but I reckon we had it better where we were. We could wander about about, drink our own choice of beverage, had more space, could get right to the front of the stage no problem and even the ubiquitous hamburger and hotdog stands were selling quite passable fare.

The girls got to see their first “real” concert performance and had a great time dancing and running amok. The lead-up acts were top class, and even Johnny Farnham himself impressed, putting on an entertaining two hours where where I even surprised myself when I realised I knew nearly every song he sang. Goes to show his influence on the Aus music scene over many years I guess. Couldn’t believe he kept on his jacket and shirt the whole balmy evening though – they must have had to peel him out of it at the end!

Next day we came to the part of the trip I’d been looking forward to, the return leg via the Purnululu National Park, home of the “Bungle Bungles”. This was why we needed the 4WD, for the 2 hour, 50km drive in through an actual working cattle station and into the park itself via a twisting corrugated dirt track. Actually, I’d heard it was worse than we found – of the 2o-something creek crossings, only about 3 actually had water in them despite the previous weeks rain, a sign of how quick things dry out up this way in the dry season.  The two deeper crossings were maybe half a meter or so, no problem in the Patrol, the only casualty being the front number plate which nearly tore off and I had to relocate to inside the windscreen for the rest of the trip.

The “Bungle Bungles” is the term usually used to descibe the park itself, although also commonly applied to the series of “tiger-striped” rock formations found throughout. These uniquely sculpted ancient reef formations were formed by a bacteria eating through sections of the rock, the black stripes, and the oxidization (rusting) of the high iron content in the remaining sections, the orange stripes.

We explored  the northern accessable end of the park Sunday arvo, starting with an hour or so walk through “Echidna Chasm”, a large, narrowing fissure in the rock.  Monday morning before we drove out, we did the southern end, a two hour trek to one of the more well known gorges in the area, the Cathedral Gorge. This spectacular walk finishes in a giant natural ampitheatre, the Cathedral, where pools of water have collected beneath towering rock walls which funnel up to the open air a hundred metres or so above. Photos really don’t do this place justice, the sense of serenity and ancient ambience literally amazing. Well, they were after the tour group who’d arrived before us left anyway. The way the walls ampified everything sound, coupled with the loud voices of some of the people there seemingly to catch up on inane gossip and the life stories of their companions made you wonder if they really appreciated just where they were! Thankfully, after a while, they left, leaving only ourselves and a couple of quieter visitors, one of whom turned out to have a rather excellent baritone. We were then treated to some of the best renditions of Hallelujah and Amazing Grace I’ve heard. Not normally my music of choice, but in this setting, apt to the point of awesome!

Then, it was time to head out. We left the park about mid day Monday, back to Halls Creek for one last night with J.  I got out with him for a couple of hours alone where he showed me the sights of a town you normally only pass through. Had another great night, though not a late one as he had a flight the next morning, and then, my good fortune : he had a spare seat on the flight, a 1 hour scenic back over the Bungles, one of the best over-land scenics in the area, and I got to ride shotgun up the front of his Cessna!

So it was up at 6 the next day, fortunately our motel was across the road from the airstrip, and I got to see the “other” side of the Bungles, a real eye-opener as although we thought we’d covered a fair bit on the ground, from the air you realise just how big the range really is. The total amount accessable by foot and 4WD wouldn’t make up 10% of the entire park.

Amazing this place wasn’t even discovered until the 80s, when a film crew came across it by accident while scouting for unusual background shots.

Took a bit of video footage on the flight as well, so the plan is to find some music and make my first actual video clip to post to youtube, so we’ll see how that goes shortly.

Perfect end to another great roadtrip, then it was the long 7 hour drive back home in time for work the next day. All good things et al.




6 responses

5 06 2010

Great read Drej!

Amazed that whispering jack’s farewell tour’s still going strong but I spose if he’s going to do every town with a population of a few thousand…

5 06 2010
simon bedak

fantastic looking place, but I’m a bit concerned. I thought Johnny Farnham had died.

5 06 2010

Thanks guys, yes Simon, I guess his zombies carrying on his legacy well.

5 06 2010
Dr Yobbo

Great stuff. Really got to get back to NW WA someday.

8 06 2010

Great pics, Drej! I picture that part of Oz being still pretty rugged country. Looks like I’d be right. Awesome scenery!

8 06 2010

Cheers Doc. YD, the Kimberley is officially classified as one of the last true unchartered frontiers left in the world, size about that of the state of California, popn about 38,000 and still largely unexplored.

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