Central Australia road trip (2005)

Darwin to Youngs Siding

Dundee Beach had been the end of the road - from now on we were back-tracking part of the Stuart Highway before picking up the Victoria Highway into Western Australia.

Given the short time we had available, a trip into Kakadu had been impossible, but Litchfield National Park was not far south, and a back road gave us entry from the north-west corner. It is a fantastic place, full of waterfalls, birds, walking trails and places to camp. We couldn't swim at Wangi Falls (safety reasons, there was too much water), but we did camp there, almost in solitude. When the day trippers melted away at the end of the day we sat at our tent in solitary splendour, checking out the bower birds that cluttered their bower with stolen white objects, enjoying the quiet that descended on the place. Strangely, someone did come and erect a tent late in the evening, in the space beside us, when there was a huge empty campsite to choose from. It was a father and small daughter, and we speculated on what brought them there; the man never spoke to us. While we sat out in the cooling night after dinner, our neighbour suddenly packed up his belongings, woke his child, who was sleeping in the tent, put her and the collapsed tent into his car and drove off; it was about 9pm, and all this happened in about ten minutes. Very strange indeed.

Although the top end had conspired to stop us swimming almost everywhere we went, Litchfield finally provided us with the beautiful Florence Falls, where water cascades down through a series of small pools, so that visitors have their own private bathing pool to enjoy.

Back down the Stuart Highway to Katherine, where we were to branch off to start our westerly journey. Before leaving for Western Australia we stopped off at Katherine Gorge, and canoed up the gorge. It was hot and a bit breathless, but tucked into a shady bit of stone up on the cliff-face we found a fat green frog. "Frogs" of another sort were very evident at Katherine's camping area - the place is overrun with cane toads; a very unpleasant reminder of their relentless invasion towards WA and the Kimberley.

The border crossing into Western Australia involves passing over any uneaten fruit or honey (both likely to carry diseases not found in WA) and a vehicle inspection to see if any cane toads are hitching a ride. Once through that we headed out to Lake Argyle, then on to Kununurra. The story doing the rounds was that the Kununurra police had been called in to remove a crocodile that a woman had found in her bath. No mystery about how it got there; her son had caught it, taped up its jaws and feet, and stored it in the bath, without telling her. The woman was so angry with him that she reported it to the police. So far so good. The police removed the croc, decided that it was a fairly harmless Johnston River crocodile, and released it into the local swimming billabong. So far not so good - it was a salt water crocodile, now swimming around in the place considered safe for local kids to play.

We went out to Wyndham and to Parry Lagoons before continuing our trip. The countryside along the road between Kununurra and Halls Creek is interesting, but the audio book we were playing in the car tended to distract us from the scenery. After a night in Fitzroy Crossing and a visit to Geike Gorge it was on to Broome, a seriously disappointing town. One of our friends had suggested not visiting Broome, but we disregarded the advice - well, from our perspective he was right; Broome had very little to offer us. It has a plastic Chinatown, and not much else to evoke the history of the place. Indeed, much of the historical jetty and boats have been left to rot. To cap it off the caravan park people were unfriendly and unhelpful, adding to our dislike of the place. Sure, we strolled along Cable Beach, and sipped cold drinks while looking at the sunset. And we loved the frilled lizard that lived near our tent. And we enjoyed the Court House market. But these things still didn't convince us that we would ever revisit Broome. The sign I've chosen to illustrate our stay in Broome is typical of the pleasure of living there - basically don't do anything that might be fun!

Off down the coast to visit a real beach at Eighty Mile Beach - beats Cable Beach any day. Then on to Port Hedland, where Kaye's sister was working at the time. With time running out, we only stayed a day or so there, before going to Exmouth.

The weather was turning wild, and by the time we turned off the highway to cut across to the main road into Exmouth the rain was coming down in sheets. The road was blocked by a minor flood, stopping us, but more importantly stopping an ambulance carrying people involved in a car accident. Eventually police from the other side of the flooded area waded over to collect the injured and take them on into town. After about an hour the flood dropped down to a manageable level and we all drove through.

Exmouth is one of our favourite places. We stayed in a cabin, unwilling to set up a tent in the muddy red soil, and used the town as a base to explore all around. On the road out to Cape Range we passed emus cooling themselves in a large roadside puddle left from the storm. The churning water left the reef a bit cloudy, but we managed a bit of skindiving and several walks in the ranges.

Rather reluctantly we set off down the west coast, to Carnarvon, then down to Kalbarri. All familiar territory, but the coast at Kalbarri is interesting, and Murchison Gorge is always worth a return visit. Back closer to Perth we decide to take the back roads - Gingin, Bindoon, Toodyay, Northam, Beverley - the towns unfold as we wind through the wheatbelt. We told ourselves that we would find somewhere different to spend the last night of our holiday, but the siren call of home rang louder and louder the closer we came to the south coast, and in the gloom of a winter's night we both knew we would simply drive all the way to Youngs Siding - well over 1000km for the last leg of our journey, and a fitting end to what was a real road trip.

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