The Gibb River Road: El Questro fails and fixes

160829

Finally irrevocably I leave Wyndham. Nice and early. The sun is up, just. It comes up unbelievably early in eastern Western Australia. The joy and benefits of daylight savings are lost on Western Australians. By 0430 the eastern sky is light enough to not need headlamps. By 0530 the sun has breached the horizon. There is always someone who’s up at 0530 but the vast majority of people would not realise the sun has been up for an hour or so when the wake and could benefit from an hour or so of light at the end of the day.

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The Derby Highway heading south

Consequently I’m awake before 0500 and are working towards an 0400 rise and an 0530 leave. The sun has a solid bite to it up here. If seventy kilometres a day gets me where I want and need to go without stress, such as access to water supplies before I run out, and assuming twelve kilometres per hour overall then by 1230 I should have completed the distance I need, have my camp set up under deep shady boughs beside rivers teeming with fish and lacking (wo)man-eating-crocodiles and can skip the whole brain-frying-water-guzzling-eye-melting afternoon session when it’s mid to high forties on the handlebar.

Even at a modest and perhaps more realistic eight kilometres per hour due to poor road conditions, my seventy kilometres will be done by 0230 saving me a good two and a half hours of brain-frying-water-guzzling-eye-melting cycling. The sun doesn’t seem to lose any of its bite before it plummets below the horizon around 1800 making the world bounce.

Swiftly temperatures OTH (On The Handlebar) rise through the thirties (was it ever in the twenties? Where did they go?) and start nibbling at the forties. Wyndham is on the coast. The caravan park at sixteen meters above sea-level. So I’m climbing. Not a relentless single steep incline but far more up than down.

I use OTH as a marker and skip the whole passive enclosed slatted white-box thermometer thing. I am not in some white box. I am on the road. Full-sun-full-glare-full-radiated-heat-full-on. It gives me a very good idea as to what my poor body is going to have to deal with.

There are some inclines, long, 3.5 % between short cliffs and embankments of red-rock themselves part of rolling hills bedecked with spinifex. I have a tail wind. It’s a mild tailwind. Lovely. Coming up these inclines the sun full blasting down on my back the tailwind effortlessly keep pace with my speed providing no cooling effect the heat radiating off black asphalt and red rock sweat pouring off me the thermometer rising rapidly through the forties. It’s not even ten thirty in the morning. Brilliant.

Water water water … the endless mantra. Do I have enough, am I drinking enough, how much is enough at any rate? Where is the next water?

I’ve skipped my original plan to ride to Diggers Rest, thirty-seven kilometres off the Great Northern and half-way along the Old Karunjie Road. Another two days’ delay. I had hoped to ride the length of the Old Karunjie Road joining the Gibb River Road at the Pentacost River crossing. The overwhelming consensus speaks of kilometres of sand, tens of kilometres of sand, vast claypans soft under-wheel. Forget it. Stick to the asphalt, ride forty-eight kilometres, turn right on the Gibb River Road and make my way to Emma Gorge. A reasonable day’s distance of seventy-three kilometres. Am sure I can restock supplies at Emma Gorge Resort (“NO CAMPING” says all the brochures). There are ten litres on Dreamer and Zi-Biddi. I have nothing to worry about. Yet I still fret. Not sure why. Perhaps because I feel that somehow I should not be affected by such blistering temperatures. Which is insane. Everybody is affected by such high temperatures and elevated thirst is a key symptom of it.

There’s a mild headwind as I plod along. Vehicles whizz past going fast going somewhere. I get a lot of ‘why?’ questions from the drivers of these huge vehicles. Twenty or thirty metres off the road in among the recently burn bush and trees is a large flock of galahs. Hard to see unless you’re going slow. For inexplicable reasons known only to galahs they perform a Mexican Wave. It starts at one end of the flock rising a meter or so undulating through the birds until terminating at the other end. They then take flight as a single entity, settle down tens of metres away, perform their Mexican Wave, and repeat. At 110 kilometres per hour you simply wouldn’t see this.

Nor would you see the huge Brolgas deep in the shadows covering a small pool under a short bridge. I am but a couple of metres away. I think they are as startled as I. Beautiful.

Thirty-five-ish kilometres south of Wyndham is The Grotto. Permanent water. No crocodiles. One can swim here, in safety. I turn off The Great Northern and immediately have to climb a ten percenter. Thanks. It levels out goes up and down a bit and two kilometres later I put Dreamer under a shady tree remove on of my empty water bottles (I did drink a lot) and start towards The Grotto.

A couple of vaners returning after walking down but a few of the 140 “man-made steps” (are steps ever made by any other animal or plant? Or by a woman for that matter), take one look at me and my bottle put two and two together and say “You’re not going to fill your water bottle from there” says she. “It’s pretty green” confirms he. “We will fill your water bottle and leave it by your bike” says she and takes my water bottle from my suddenly powerless hand continues back to the car leaving me somewhat bemused and under no illusion who wears the pants around here.

The Grotto is rumoured to be three hundred feet deep. What is ‘three hundred feet? About one hundred meters. No matter the thin green film on the surface, water one hundred meters deep is unlikely to be too corrupted. However I drink from a tiny puddle created by thermal waters trickling out of the thirty-meter high surrounding cliffs landing on the flat rocks surrounding the Grotto. It is clear and tasty. I swim in the Grotto itself rinsing all my cycling gear.

I’m snapping photos from the top of the Grotto when from one photo to the next my Sony DSC-HX90V simply stops working. Didn’t drop it. No water. Not even dusty. Nothing. Not even photos. It is the second Sony I’ve bought for this trip. Identical model. Both failed in identical ways from one photo to the next! At least the first one lasted eleven months. This one I bought in Darwin in May. As in May 2016. It’s damned near brand-fucking new. No I cannot recommend Sony.

All I can take photos with now is my Nokia-Microsoft phone. Which must have The World’s Most Ineptly Basic Camera. Ever. No zoom no settings no nothing. I am about to ride down one The World’s Most Picturesque Regions and I’ll do it without a camera!?

I seriously consider returning to Kununurra, the most likely place to get another camera and deal with the defective one. But I’ve wasted enough time. I’ll simply have deal with the Nokia’s limitations and see what I come up with.

My water bottle is refilled and next to Dreamer. I venture forth and thirteen kilometres later reach the Gibb River Road turn-off. I miss my camera as the Nokia reveals its limitations.

After lunch in the shade of the paltry information board at the turn-off where I field questions from vaners about cycling and who refill my water bottles again, I start towards Emma Gorge.

Emma Gorge is on the El Questro Station land and part of the same organisation which runs the El Questro homestead and campgrounds some fifty kilometres along the Gibb including sixteen kilometres of dirt. Given I’ve already done fifty today and know I’m not going to make the El Questro campgrounds. And since Emma Gorge Resort doesn’t have any camping facilities and camping is FORBIDDEN E V E R Y W H E R E I wonder how I’m going to manage finding a campsite.

The countryside is pretty. I try to take photos of it but am not sure it’s really working out. Am I really considering the entire Gibb River Road without a camera? Well, yes.

About three I ride into Emma Gorge Resort, drink deep and fill my water bottles from the ablution block and make my way over to reception. Nothing for it, I’m going to ask them for a place to camp. It is a well-appointed well looked-after resort, no doubt about it. Well kept gardens, hectares of grass.

The young receptionist beams as I walk up and asks “How is your day going?”. I tell her it’s kinda hot and sweaty and going great. We laugh. I ask about the campsite. Give her her due she barely bats an eye and does not immediately deny my campability nor demand I somehow make my way to the campsite twenty-six kilometres down the road. Instead she works it out for me doing a magnificent job of bending the Almighty Rules. I am sent back to the Gibb, told to turn left (east), and take a small track heading south at the dry Emma Creek. “Ignore the ‘no camping sign’” I am further instructed. Which I do. Great campsite.

160830

0700 I’m back at Emma Gorge, finding myself picking The Moment a large group of let’s say senior people meander their way towards the gorge. I do try, really I do, to walk calmly and peacefully at the rear of the group in some attempt at Buddhist-Zen-Meditation but can’t do it. The track is not wide and I resolutely but gently make my way past the group.

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A 100m waterfall (from memory) in the wet.

It is an easy walk, bit rocky in places. The Nokia vainly and valiantly trying to capture it. Towering cliffs. Brilliant blue sky intensely lit by that sun creating razor-sharp contrasts between cliffs-in sun and cliffs-in shadow. Unfortunately too much for the Nokia.

Turquoise Pool turns up, about half-way. It is turquoise. A couple of young dudes who’d raced past me moments earlier are about to take a dip. Graciously they offer to step aside allowing me to take a snap. I continue up the gorge to the main falls which are awesome. A young family, two young kids are getting ready to take a dip. Nokia does its best. But …

The cliffs must be sixty metres or more, stained black where the waterfall usually is, dry now. The tops of the cliffs merge towards each other closing in on the view of the sky. Thermal waters trickle from various strata of the cliffs and fall long but gentle into the large pool creating the delightful sound of summer rain when you just, just need it. Large hanging gardens of ferns have established themselves along the horizontal strata, the rich green offsetting the dark-red of the rocks.

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Emma Gorge. Very very nicer

It is beautiful. It is peaceful too. Just. The family is beginning to wind up. Nokia is working overtime to capture it before the tranquillity is lost forever through noise and disturbance.

The swim is delightful, floating on my back staring up at the thin sliver of sky constrained by the towering cliffs with their green hue. I float under the summer rain enjoying it striking my face and stinking my eyes.

The dudes turn up. Another couple. A group of four, one who just can’t imagine the water being anything but being freezing cold the rest urging her to “take the plunge” and just “dive in” for “it’s great!”. It is impossible to not know what everyone is saying. The Moment has gone and I leave.

I cut through my group of seniors as they begin the arduous task of making their way past the Turquoise Pool. They’ve just made half-way.

More water and a quick shower (cold) and I point Dreamer south and head back towards the Gibb.

Ten kilometres further up I turn left on a gravel road and head towards El Questro. Bit of a brand name has El Questro with accommodation ranging from 20$ per night for an unpowered campsite to an eye-watering although only rumoured price range starting at 1000$ per night and topping off at 3000$ per night. The (unofficial) consensus is 2000$ to 2500$ per night. A month’s work for a large number of Australians.

Zeberdee Springs, a “must see” according to El Questro’s own PR stuff lies on my route but closes at 1200 to minimise impacts from mass tourism.

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Livistonia Palms of Zeberdee Springs

Zeberdee is less a must see and more a must feel for it is a series of thermal springs ranging from 28 to 32oC that apparently start their journey in Papua New Guinea before making their way along a huge fault transported deep into the earth heated until eventual they exit at Zeberdee Springs in the Kimberley of Western Australia. Even if not true it’s a hell of a story. It’s pretty but hardly breathtaking like some of the other gorges and sites.

It does take a bit of getting used to, coming hot and sweaty off a bike and plonking myself into a shallow pool of water around 30oC. It is also great. Since it’s damned near the 1200 cut-off I share the pools with one other couple.

After I’m cleaned and de-sweated I start to return to the carpark when an El Questro ranger turns up with a tour-group. I don’t actually get kicked out but it is time to leave. As I’m organising Dreamer in the carpark the ranger turns up having abandoned her charges in the pools and we have a chat. Sarah is one of those people who do their work because they love it. She’s quite taken by the bike and we swap contacts and perhaps shall take a coffee or something later, since she doesn’t drink alcohol and is on strong antibiotics having contracted giardia during one of her countless camping trips in the region. “Giardia’s in the water huh?” I ask. “Apparently” she confirms, “mostly around Kununurra”. I got giardia in India a lifetime or so ago. Not pleasant. The pondy-green-slimy water I drank from the King River un-purified now takes on a whole new dimension.

She also points out that I could easily camp at Zeberdee and “no one would know” since it’s closed after 1200. Interesting thought, but I’m going to the station.

Several kilometres later I turn left into the track leading to El Questro Gorge which, as the name suggests, is one of the icons of the sites available at El Questro. I make maybe perhaps possibly potentially maybe two hundred meters for sand. Is. The. Bike. Killer. And it is well sandy. The little map from El Questro showing all their sites and attractions is but a mud-map and not drawn to scale. I don’t know if I’ve got 1000 m of sand or 15 000 m. Nothing for it, I give up make my way as best I can back to the road and continue towards El Questro campground.

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Sand is the Bike Killer. The track to El Questro Gorge

There’s a large puddle of water in the road. A floodway or river channel. The base is large round river boulders. This should be fun. I wobble and waddle but successfully rise to the challenge. I’m feeling pretty proud. Boulder river crossings are not simple things. My smugness is short lived. A corner, perhaps two later, there is not a ‘large puddle’ there’s a huge river roaring across a stone causeway half a kilometre wide filled with boulders the size of beach balls.

OK, full disclosure. Perhaps thirty or forty meters. Perhaps fifty centimetres perhaps a bit more deep. It is flowing but perhaps gently rather than roaring. The boulders though perhaps not quite be beach ball size are far larger than those of the puddle conquered but a minute earlier.

Picture this: I’ve stopped Dreamer right at the water, figuring should I simply give it a go and deal with the inevitable/possible (delete which is not applicable) boulder induced sudden stop? Or should I change into my Keen waterproof (which always tickles me: waterproof sandals!?) sandals and wade. As I’m contemplating my fate a large 4WD arrives across the river and patiently waits for my call. Another turns up behind me. And another. Hmmm … pressure is on. What am I gonna do?

I go for the shoe change and laboriously back Dreamer and Zi-Biddi back up the track to get out of the 4WDs’ way.

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Shaun and Shane, from Perth, show me how to manage a crossing. The took me over. Thanks guys

The 4WD Ford Ranger ute from the other side goes first. I get them stop in the river, the Pentacost River, no less, to take a photo. Which they do. As they pull up Shane and Shaun tell me they thought I was going to give it a go and then ask if I want a lift across. “Sure, that’d be great”. Tailgate down, Zi-biddi on the tailgate, Dreamer on the Ranger’s impressive ‘cage’ (it’d be a roof-rack on steroids if there were a roof for it to cover), panniers scattered about the tray and me also the tailgate keeping it all in place.

Safely on the other side I rebuild my rig and finally make my to reception where I hang around for hours. There’s but one person ‘personning’ reception and each customer wants to ask a L O T of questions. Sarah turns up and we have a nice chat. I ask where the campsites are, decide I’ll set camp and return to deal with reception later.

Reception is still being hammered when I return a good hour or so later. Instead I go to the bar and talk to the barman, coz as everyone knows the Barman Is Always Right. I want to know how far it is from the road to the start of El Questro Gorge. “’bout a 1000 m” he tells me with confidence, after I confirm he has actually been there. However, a large gentleman next to me at the bar waiting his turn with dark sunglasses on and hat even though the sun’s pretty much gone from the day, ventures An Opinion. Seems he was there earlier in the day. “Naaa, it’s more like two and half kilometres”. Ash, The Barman (Who Is Always Right) then tells me it’s “been a while since I was there”.

Craig then offers to run me other there tomorrow. I love Australians. I’ll work out how to get back after I’ve hiked the gorge.

I join him for a beer and Rod turns up. Rod and Craig have adjacent campsite and had few beers together the previous night. I introduce myself and Craig explains to Rod he’s going to run me out to El Questro Gorge and Rod thinks that’s a Great Idea and suggests we make a day of it and all go. Four years separate me, the youngest, from Rod the oldest with Craig smack in the middle. I am on a bicycle though. They both drive Large 4WDs and clearly enjoy beer. Let’s see how we deal with the hike tomorrow.

We are the last men sitting on the terrace as the bar closes and the night descends. Local muso Chris Mathews played good tunes, a hamburger was consumed as were quite a few beers. Much bullshit was spoken. Sarah turned up and regaled us with many-a weird and wild tale of a flat out lifestyle encompassing horse-breaking (broken back), camel breaking and racing (lesser injuries), how she determinedly overcame such injuries, photography (BIG passion) and Life in the Kimberleys. Sarah’s two favourite places on El Questro are Zeberdee Springs and El Questro Gorge. She made an impression on Craig and Rod, both single males in their fifties. They are quite fired up for the gorge.

El Questro’s is owned by Delaware North. Delaware North is “is ranked as one of the world’s largest privately held companies by Forbes magazine” (delawarenorth.com). If there’s one problem with private equity and even more so with privately owned companies that, in their own words, they are often “working behind the scenes”. In other words there is no oversight, no shareholders concerned about their own reputation, no AGM in which disgruntled shareholders can raise issues or NGOs for that matter, no mandatory reporting to comply with stock exchange regulations.

The words ‘environment’ and ‘sustainability’ do not occur on the first page of their website. And it takes quite a bit of digging to find their Corporate Social Responsibility link.

Their ‘vision’ is to balance “the highest level of satisfaction consistent with maximizing returns to stakeholders” (delawarenorth.com/about/vision-and-mission) and their ‘mission’ to “accomplish our vision by foreseeing and exceeding customer and client expectation”.

El Questro is private property with some stunning natural phenomenon which have been turned into Kimberley ‘icons’ by shrewd marketing, accessible by payment of various fees particularly the right to camp – camping fees, and the right to visit the sites – Wilderness Pass. It may well be a model for ‘sustainable’ management of nature-based and natural resources by the private sector. It is not clear what if anything Parks and Wildlife contribute to the management of the sites across El Questro. If not then El Questro are providing a public service by managing these sites and making them available to tourists. The various fees then transfer the cost back onto the consumer. However, El Questro is also a working cattle station, a pastoral lease. They run cattle on it. There is an inherent conflict between agriculture and nature conservation. The Australian outback did not evolve with ungulates, hoofed animals and they tear up the ground, destroy water holes, deplete vegetation stocks, contribute (significantly) to the fly population and enable large numbers of large saltwater crocodiles to thrive. No mention of how the cattle station operations fit in with the nature-based tourism operations.

Also, El Questro was appropriated from the original inhabitants, Aboriginal First Nations People. There’s no trace of any mention of cooperation, First Nations’ culture, cultural, spiritual and sacred sites. It’s as if they were never there … terra nullis.

Why does all this matter? Well, Sarah told me El Questro’s Environmental Manager is leaving and they are looking for a replacement. You know, that Hand of God thing again. I almost saw it as the bright pale blue sky zipped closed around a darker tear. Although I didn’t see The Hand I did see where it retracted back from whence it came.

I apply for the job. For I. Am. An. Environmental. Manager. Nowadays known as a ‘sustainable development practitioner/professional’. For there are no environmental problems. There are social activities which cause environmental impacts. Thus, should you wish to ‘solve’ an environmental problem you need to change a social activity. Social activities can be priced. With pricing you have the strongest incentive to effect a change.

This all gets really difficult when there’s no trace of ‘environment’ or ‘sustainable’ in a company’s Vision and Mission. The only time ‘environment’ is used in anger is at the bottom of page 12 of a 12 page brochure where the reader is encouraged to read that “Delaware North is a custodian of some of Australia’s most special places. We care for our environment and this brochure is printed on environmentally responsible paper”, available here http://www.elquestro.com.au/files/El_Questro_Wilderness_Park.pdf.

I never managed to successfully open Delaware North’s page on Corporate Social Responsibility (https://www.delawarenorth.com/about/values/corporate-social-responsibility). So I don’t know what they say.

Geordie the HR Manager receives me well. Great conversation. We speak for hours about environmental management, river basin management plans, identification of impacts, design of management plans and systems, of communication engagement and consultation programs, agreements with Traditional Owners on how the land and the cultural sites are to be managed of the medium to long term, how to engage and involve the public, the consumer. Geordie’s pretty impressed.

Next up is Lori, the General Manager. She’s got m CV in hand and I can tell immediately that this is Not Going To Go Well. For a company’s character comes from Above. And if Delaware North don’t a give a shit about ‘environment’ and ‘sustainability’ then neither shall their various operations.

El Questro was torn from the possession of the First Nations People who’d occupied the region for tens of thousands of years without any trace of compensation at the barrel of a gun. As you travel around El Questro there is not a single mention of the First Nation People in any of their PR stuff associated with any attraction. They claim to have ‘good relations’ with the Traditional Owners.

As our conversation rolls on I am hapless to prevent Lori getting ever more on the defensive. It is, quite simply, a catastrophe. The interviewee interviewing the interviewer. They do not want nor need an environmental manager.  I asked, given their growth year on year in visitors is like 10% per year, what their five to ten year sustainability plan is to manage this growth. Stony silence. There is no plan. They want a ‘doer’ to perform various activities in line with a Vision and Mission lacking even the mention of ‘environment’ and I am free to no longer fear quite how Ram is going to react to me having a job clear across the other side of the world from where she is based.

Back to planning the Gibb River Road. And enjoying a few beers with Craig and Rod.

31 August 2016

As is the nature of these things we go in two vehicles. Craig’s has but two seats and Rods is, well, full of stuff. A chainsaw occupies pride of place on the floor in the passengers’ side, Bailey his small dog owns the seat and rear of the Toyota Troopy has a large fridge in the middle of it.

The access track is 2500 metres (thanks Ash). It is overwhelmingly sand. Thanks be to Craig’s large Patrol ute we have no problem. El Questro Gorge is about 3500 metre round trip. There’s a pool halfway called … Halfway Pond. “Most people stop at Halfway Pond” Sarah tells us, “Cross the pool, climb the big rock on the left hand side. Do not try the right hand side. And continue until you come to a waterfall and a big swimming hole.” Goddit.

The gorge itself is a narrow deep cleft between them ‘towering’ cliffs and goes pretty much dead straight. It’s rocky. There’s a creek. Rod’s wearing flip-flops (thongs in Strine) without a hat. Craig has his dark sunglasses on (they are prescription glasses so he has to wear them or not see or change to clear glass), a hat and Keen hiking boots. I’m not wearing sunglasses (I put them away), I am wearing a hat and I’ve got Keen waterproof sandals on.

This is all relevant because the Rangers and other people endlessly warn to wear “appropriate footwear” of which thongs is not one of them, a hat, and carry lots of water. Rod does have a bottle of water but otherwise doesn’t comply with any of the recommended requirements.

Neither Rod nor Craig are particularly fit, although Rod has the shoulders and upper body of someone who used to be. His prodigious beer belly alters his profile somewhat. Craig is not nimble enough to delicately leap across the small creek bouncing off stones and rocks. There’s quite a bit of clambering. The gorge is full of rocks and stones varying from millimetres to the size of a small house.

By now my Keen waterproof sandals are proving their worth. I can walk with impunity through the creek and the puddles. Rod can too, to a point. Thongs are not particularly stable. Craig has to pick his way around the water and wet areas.

We stick together encouraging one another and bit by bit make our way up the gorge. It’s nice to be with these guys. All of us are entranced by the beauty of it. Photos are taken. Fuck do I miss a camera! The Nokia all but useless.

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It is not a simple work

Halfway Pool comes up. Indeed does a large rock block our way. A mid-thirties-something Swiss couple are attempting the “climb up the left side of the rock”. A family of four are enjoying the pool.

“Well guys we gonna go for it?” is the question. Damned right we are.

The guy of the Swiss couple finally makes it. He’s trying to help his partner up. A lot of strange contortions are happening but she eventually makes it.

I wade across. It’s just over waist deep. Somehow I must rise through the water using my hands for there are no foot-places under the water. Once shimmed up a little bit it’s possible to get a foot onto a cutting or knob or something. The boulders have been well rounded by the thundering waters which pour through here come the wet season. It is more challenging than it looks from across the water and I appreciate the difficulty the Swiss woman had.

Rod is next and takes my hand making the last bit easier. Craig throws his boots across then hands me his rucksack. He’s a tall dude so has a length of leg neither Rod nor I can boast of. It makes it surprisingly easy to haul him up.

The river disappears for a while, running under the vast amounts of scree washed down. Reappearing again we come across a small pool with a waterfall. “Is this it?” I enquire. Clearly Rod had been paying more attention when Sarah described the walk for, quite emphatically, it is not. That means we have to get above the waterfall. It’s almost but not quite a sheer wall of rock several metres high. Large boulders block the rest of the canyon. I don’t recall Sarah mentioning this as an obstacle. So … scale the waterfall or scramble over the boulders? It’s kinda either or.

I take on the waterfall. Rod the boulders. It turns out to be the waterfall. There are a series of small narrow ledges manageable steps apart. Sort of a drunk man’s staircase.

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Me: “Is this it” Rod: “No!” Me: “Oh, OK” Seems he was paying more attention . Climb the watery staircase on the left

A hundred meters further up a couple of dudes are coming down and confirm we are “almost there”.

And finally we are there. Indeed a large pool, ten metres long. A thin waterfall (it is the end of the dry season following a dry-wet-season). No way, no easy way to conquer the waterfall. The cliffs, well, tower above us closing in on each other whilst the base has been washed out, the sky but a thin strip of outrageous blue slicing dark red and ochre rocks. Beautiful. Lots of photos (Fuck I Miss A Camera). The Swiss couple finally make it.

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Me: “This it?” Rod: “Yes”

We marvel at just how high the black rocks are, for the black rocks tell us how high comes the water as it pours through the canyon during the wet season. It must be ten metres of more above our heads. A lot of water.

After a goodly while of swimming and enjoying ourselves we head back.

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Very beautiful to chillout and relax

Rod and Craig are seriously considering Keen sandals, they are damned good for this kind of trek.

Pizza night. More beer. Sarah floats by. Dad was Des Duguid a famous Australian boxer who competed in the 1960 Rome Olympics and sparred with and befriended Cassius Clay. I think Rod’s smitten. She’s very entertaining and personable though does tend to command the conversation. Chris Mathews plays again.

I give Ash a hard time for being 250% out regarding the distance.

We are the last dudes standing. Again. Come closing time.

01 September 2016

I cannot believe it is the first of September. Time is flying.

I’ve been here two nights and not paid for any of it. Nor for the Wilderness Pass. I never made it through the throngs at reception and I’m feeling really self-conscious. There’s a hint of passive resistance in my reluctance to take on reception. The Pass covers things like management of the roads, signage, waste management, upkeep of the treks, maintenance of the grounds. The high cost items deal with the impacts 1000s of kilogrammes of machine does to fragile grounds. The Pass is not differentiated based on weight or size. My combined weight of 140 kg is accorded the same impact value as 6000 kg of 4WD + van. And I’m struggling with that.

Let’s see what happens.

Today we take on Explosion Gorge. Apparently back in the day an intrepid fisher man got tired of the lack of success using conventional methods and resorted something more dramatic to secure his meal.

Explosion Gorge is a good number of kilometres along a dusty stony sandy track and one hell of a river crossing over the Pentecost. Truly boulders approaching beach-ball size. We catch glimpses of El Questro’s homestead accommodation perched on cliffs overlooking the river. Lush green lawn, well laid out gardens, nice looking buildings. We can smell the money from here.

At Explosion Gorge we look out over towering cliffs (yes yes I know: repetitive. But it’s true) and a gorge tens of metres wide. No swimming but. This is saltwater crocodile territory.

Bailey, Rod’s dog, has the same sense of independence as Rod himself and so completely ignores Rod’s ever more urgent attempts to bring her back from the water where she’s splashing around having a great time. Crocodiles love dog.

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Explosion Gorge

Bailey is recovered by us all going down to the small beach were a couple of boats are secured. Rod takes Bailey to shallower safer water where she can play without ending up as croc lunch.

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View upstream
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L – R: Patrol, Patrol owner Craig, Bailey & his pet Rod (being held by Bailey’s butt), Troopy

Upon returning to the campsite we have a few beers before driving up Serpentine Hill to catch the sunset.

It’s clear we are all leaving tomorrow. Fun and joy have to come to an end sometime and the Gibb River Road won’t get ridden on its own.

Kiwi Craig comes over. He’s a very passionate cyclist all of four days younger than I and he’s seriously entranced by my touring get up. I can see the wheels whirring behind his eyes. He’s keen. He’s real keen. Judi his partner however is most seriously not. He’s desperately trying to get her to buy into the whole idea and it’s simply not working. He wants to talk cycle-touring a bit more before I leave. And it is he who spots the near complete crack in Zi-Biddi’s frame where the bracket for the coupling arms is welded to the frame.

160902-zi-biddi-fail

Zi-Biddi Fail. Damned glad it was discovered before I ventured forth tomorrow

No way I can leave before having this repaired. K-Craig tries to reassure me he can help but it’s obvious it’d be quite an imposition. He and Judi have their plans and it’d cost them at least a day perhaps two. I think first to see if Rod and/or Craig can help. I also ask at El Questro. They do not have an aluminium welder but they can transfer me to and from Kununurra for like 500$.

Time to ask the Boys. It is really obvious I can’t move without fixing it and Craig offers to run me in tomorrow and Rod decides to stay and extra day too. I am well relieved.

The Camp Ranger does his rounds as I’m sorting through gear. There is no sticker affixed to my tent telling anyone that I am a legitimate Happy Camper in El Questro’s Black Cockatoo camp-ground. He comes over, checks out my gear, asks a lot of questions, compliments me on my effort and never mentions fees or stickers or anything. He bids me well and disappears. It doesn’t do my guilt trip much good though.

It’s a steep winding track to the top of Serpentine Hill about three kilometres from the campsite. The hill itself is perched atop them towering cliffs overlooking the Pentecost River just below us.

Stunning 360o views over the Cockburn, Saw and Pentecost Ranges as the setting sun creates blazing worlds of reds, oranges and purples across the sky and the few clouds. Waaay over to the north we can see rain pouring down. It’s all quite dramatic. Fuck I need a camera and tomorrow I guess I get my chance to get one. Funny how it works. In a way I am very happy Zi-Biddi decided to fail and ‘force’ me back to Kununurra, the only place where I’ll have any chance of getting a camera.

Bailey does her Fuck You Rod trick and happily scurries down the slope to the very very edge of the cliffs where we can’t actually see her. A couple of times Rod manages to call her back but then one time she does not return. It’s getting dark and Bailey has not been seen for an uncharacteristically long time. Rod dons shoes (yes, not thongs) and starts making his way towards the cliff’s edge. I try to suggest that losing a dog is one thing, but losing a dude is a completely different matter. Fortunately Bailey is still on the cliff edge and begrudgingly returns to safety, as does Rod.

160901-exp-sunset-8
Brilliant sunset

Its pitch black when we head down. Apparently 4WDrivers like the added element of driving with lights. OK. Fine. They do have impressive lights. It’s quite kool in truth.

Back at the bar. More beer. Sarah tells us she was diagnosed with a terminal illness and prepared to die. In isolation. A mate digs her out of her Melbourne mausoleum and ‘forces’ her to join him on a trip to the Kimberlys. Along the way she starts to see ghost of First Nations People. Well if you’re dying strange things are going to happen she reasons. The Ghosts tell her where to stop and what to look for. Her companion is quite confounded but reasoned When you’re dying strange things are going to happen. By the time she made the Kimberley she was in dire straights and had quite an eclectic collection of visions. She begins to feel better. Goes for a check-up and they can’t find any trace of the illness. Welcome to the Kimberleys. She hasn’t left since.

2 Sept 2016

Argyle Engineering can fix Zi-Biddi but only on Monday. EK Engineering a hundred meters down the road can do it by 1500. We now have an entire day to kill in Kununurra.

I shout Craig breakfast in the Kimberly Café and battle Microsoft regarding my Surface Pro 3’s cracked screen. They are quite willing to collect my tablet to fix/replace it. There’s a ‘but’ though. To have it returned to me at another address is problematical. I will in effect have to give Nick, the eccentric receptionist of the Kununurra YHA access to my email to get the verification email to authorise a change of return address sometime next week. But I will lose all my data. Which kinda kills the whole project. This takes a good two hours.

Chasing cameras sees me criss-cross Kununurra’s admittedly small CBD until finally I settle on an Olympus Tough. It’s a waterproof crashproof and hopefully bike-on-Australian-roads-proof camera. Not exactly an inexpensive exercise. Now, though, I have a camera for the ride ahead. Back to them coincidences, them ‘Careful what you ask for (coz you may just get it)’. Thanks Zi-Biddi.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Zi-Biddi mend

We’re pretty knackered by the time we return and meet up with Rod. We’re not leaving tomorrow. Sunday is DoD … Day of Departure.

Saturday the 3rd September 2016

Packing and organising.

Craig agrees to transport me to the Gibb River Road sparring me the horror of repeating sixteen kilometres of rough track.

Everybody tells me “the first bit” of the Gibb River Road is “the worst”. But I don’t know where the ‘first bit’ ends. Is it Home Valley? The Kalumburu turn-off? Or the Mount Barnett Roadhouse? Guess I’ll find out.

I’ve been pouring over the maps, asking anyone foolish enough to tell they’ve just come up the Gibb, trying to lock down which creeks and rivers and billabongs have water. Not a single Australian dares even consider the water in these sources as drinkable. But they don’t have a Gravity Works Platypus purification system and they do have huge tanks and containers of water. It is obvious though that there are plenty of water sources at various gorges, roadhouses and campsites. The longest distance between sources is the 180 kilometres between Ellenbrae Station and Mount Barnett Roadhouse. As the inestimable Erwin mentioned I’ll probably only need to carry ten litres or so.

We have a mild night and head to bed early.

Max

El Questro, 3 September 2016

2 thoughts on “The Gibb River Road: El Questro fails and fixes

  1. raining and foggy here, so with wood fire warming the place I’m working in the shed crafting away. A pleasure to see and read the story, can’t wait for the next episode

    Like

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