15 February 17
The Prado hugs the road snugly, the massive tires confident in their grip. All roadtrips need tunes and I’ve hours’ worth on a USB stick ready to be plugged into the Prado’s entertainment system. Only the USB-port does not work. A 4500 km eleven day drive without tunes is beyond comprehension. I delete all extraneous files from my poor Nokia Lumina-Microsoft phone and load seventy songs and couple it via Bluetooth.
Tunes sorted I leave Cob’s place aiming to take the Northam-Pithara Road through Goomalling to the Great Northern Highway. Only I miss the turn-off and find myself in Meckering where in 1968 a 6.9 earthquake destroyed the town. A brief stop at the little open air memorial before I ask the dude in the shop about the back road to Goomalling.
Central and northern Western Australia has or is in the process of receiving a year’s worth of rain in but a month. Floods are everywhere. Meckering is no exception.
“There is. but we’ve had a lot of rain recently. The road’s cut by floods. What kind of vehicle do you have?”
“A Prado” pointing out the window to where it stands.
Reassured he continues “There is a way but. Take the first left heading towards Kal. There’s a ‘water on road’ sign. Go past it. You’ll get to the flood. Take the road on the left. There’s water over it but you can drive through it no problem. Drive about a-kay-kay-and-a-half and take a right. You’ll see the silos in front. After that you’re right to Goomalling”
Sure enough, ‘water on road’ sign, handpainted, flooded road, left, more floods but passable, in a Prado though I confess to a moment’s apprehension, silos in front, right into Moore North Road, passed Salisbury ruined during the ‘quake, and eventually the Goomalling-Meckering Road through wheat-fields (when in season), rolling hills and views. A brief stop in the only bit of remnant natural vegetation to try to picture this area before the clear-felling destruction of the forests and the remorseless progression of agriculture through what would have been endless forests of eucalypts and acacia for thousands of squared kilometres.
It’s going to be a main road asphalt trip. I had thought of retracing some of my bike-tracks up through the Murchison and Gascoyne visiting Mount Augusta, Australia’s and indeed the world’s largest rock, and perhaps a quick spin through some parts of Karajini, even Millstream. The rain however put paid to that. Pretty much all gravel roads are closed due to water: flooded or simply soggy and impassable. Western Australia is wet from top to bottom.
When I picked up the Prado I spoke briefly with Chris, the manager of Advance Car Rentals in Darwin who want the Prado returned. I’ve an allowance of days in which to return the Prado. There’s a very real risk of the Great Northern Highway being closed to all traffic around Fitzroy Crossing due to floods. Chris reassures me he’s far more interested in the Prado being safely delivered and if I have to wait a few days somewhere for the floods to die down he’s not going to bust my balls. We even discuss the option of the much longer but more secure route of crossing the Nullarbor then driving the Stuart Highway through the middle of Australia. If it were he doing the driving he’d go the Nullarbor-Stuart Highway route. I decided to gamble and take the Great Northern Highway all the way through Western Australia.
I’ve got to do on average four hundred and fifty kilometres per day to complete my task in the time provided. Five hours driving – I’m planning on doing only ninety to one hundred kilometres per hour – plus say two hours of stops along the way. Seven hour days. Fatigue is my main concern. Can’t fall asleep riding a bike. But it’s a well recognised risk whilst driving a vehicle. And I am not used to driving and don’t count myself as much of a ‘driver’.
An esky and two foam-insulated ex-veggy transport boxes in the back containing ice, drinks and fresh fruit and veggies, twenty litres of water, a box of dry goods, cooking and kitchen stuff, new Wilderness Equipment tent with a removable fly far more suitable for the hot sweaty nights in Australia’s far north than the brilliant Hillebergs’ Soulo, Helinox’s brilliant Ground Chair, a bag of clothes to use for the trip, a far larger bag of clothes for use during the next road trip, a carton of unsweetened Almond milk, and a variety of bits of techno-junk.
The imperative to leave Perth and rapidity it all came about means I leave without my newly issued credit card from the Rabo Bank in the Netherlands. It’s been making its way towards me for two weeks now. The track and trace website tells me it’s been picked up and dispatched but neither where it is nor when I should expect it. And I godda leave. The tightrope I’m walking on is getting tighter and tighter and thinner and thinner. I leave without it.
Also I leave without my Garmin Montana GPS. Garmin’s been toying with it for a while trying to solve the problem with accessing my Archives folder and thus most of my waypoints and routes. Apparently the device is OK but a file in the Archives is corrupted. Remove the file and the device works as normal. No detailed recording of my trip since I’m to be reunited with my Montana in Darwin. Hopefully.
I have left Perth and somehow I know I won’t be back. Not in a substantive way, to visit and stay with family. If disappointment stems from ill-defined expectations then to imagine, to expect to stay and enjoy catching up with family will only lead to disappointment.
It’s good to be on the road. I guess it’s my preferred habitat, an ecosystem of change. Sitting with strangers in caravan parks, campsites and backpackers talking travel and trips there’s an element of awe when they realise I started in the 80s and still haven’t settled. Whilst I feel a tight clench of envy and longing: to belong somewhere, where my friends and family are part of a rich social community, an ecosystem of stability and comfort.
I know, as I guess they do, the grass truly is always greener on the other side. Still I dread The Questions: “Where are you from?” Fuck I hate that question. Born in one country, never really lived there. Grew up in another, fled it as soon as I could. Lived and worked across twenty odd countries in the same number of years. “Where are you from?” “Many Places”. A ridiculous answer, but also the truth. I don’t identify with the culture of the land of my birth, and nor where I grew up. “I live in Sweden” I answer and hope they don’t pick the subtle insinuation: live does not equal from. Even then, I am not registered in Sweden. I don’t have an address. I use Ram as a pretext, clinging to her settlement. But it is ephemeral, and can change. What if she returns to Norway for work. Does that mean I would live in Norway? And because of Brexit I may return and find I am no longer so welcome as before and may not even be able to settle in Sweden. Then what?
The Globalisation I need is generations away. No borders, no passports – a travel document which freezes people into a cultural pigeonhole fraught with restricts on travel – no visa’s, universal healthcare, universal insurance (you try getting insurance when you are not registered in a country), financial institutions (why do I suffer charges using my Dutch credit card outside of Dutchland?), telecommunications and internet (I have bought no less than four new phones since my Epic started coz neither my Swedish nor Dutch phones work outside of large urban areas in Australia. My Australian phone does not work in Indonesia. My Indonesian phone does not work in Australia. There are no ‘packages’ without HUGE and indeed prohibitive roaming charges provided by any of my four telecommunications service providers which enable me to use a single phone and number across all countries).
Mid-afternoon I pull into a roadside rest area. Warm and sunny, humid. I am determined to keep fit. A track along a fence line saves me from running on the Great Northern Highway. Fifty minutes I run. By the time I get back to the rest area I am little more than a sweaty blob. There’s no-one around. There’s a puddle, all of a few centimetres deep. I strip, take my plastic bowl and wash the sweat off in three hundred millilitre doses. Refreshed and clean, I plan dinner.
Fortunately this rest area has shelters coz the clouds have closed the sky, the wind’s picked up and there’s the unmistakable scent of water and dust. Rain is coming.
It starts raining as I make dinner in the shelter. It’s a no-brainer where I’m gonna sleep tonight: the back of the Prado. The rain’s turned to ground an endless shallow puddle. Putting up and then sleeping in my tent would be a nightmare.
Mind you the Prado’s hardly a comfortable experience. Although there’s space enough there’s a two centimetre cliff between the rear seats, when folded down, and the space at the back. The seats do not fold down flat either. It is neither level nor flat. But it is dry and that’ll do for tonight.
16 February 17
Just north of the old gold-mining town of Mount Magnet I pull into the Swagman Roadhouse for coffee. H U G E trucks abound, one with a haulpack enroute to a mine somewhere in the north, most likely the Pilbara.
Back on the road. It’s ‘Open’ according to the Main Roads information board, but ‘with caution’. I am warned.
Water everywhere. The normally dry salt lakes are if not full then at least have a decent amount of water in them. I lick my fingers after dipping them in one. Indeed salty. For countless millennium rain weathering down ancient rocks have concentrated salt in vast flat pans across this remarkedly flat land. Few rivers draining the landscape actually reach the ocean. Add plenty of sun and lots of heat, the waters evaporate leaving behind the salts.
The Great Northern Highway started around 1940 waaay back when Western Australia hardly knew what a road transport network was all about and yet somehow had to connect various disparate pastoral and mining centres. The road running along the coast unsurprisingly got the name North West Coastal Highway, and the Great Northern Highway was born connecting all the little dots which had sprung up sort of in the middle of the state. In truth it’s nowhere near the middle middle of the state since a HUGE chunk of eastern Western Australia remains to this day mindboggingly lacking settlements conventionally considered to be urban. The roads which join them are legends in their own right – as are the people and communities who live along them – and aside of roads joining the huge mines north of Kalgoorlie non are asphalted.
North of Perth the Great Northern’s primary purpose is to join farming and pastoral towns and communities. Somewhere between Wubin and Paynes Find, respectively two hundred and fifty-five kilometres and four hundred kilometres north of Perth its purpose is primarily to join past and/or present mining centres. All that remains of Paynes Find on the Highway is a decrepit looking roadhouse/pub (closed when I drove past).
After Mount Magnet and the Swagman Roadhouse come Cue – at one time boasting an impressive ten thousand inhabitants waaay back in the 1890s. Today, according to Cue’s website (http://www.cue.wa.gov.au/about/history), it has about three hundred. I get another coffee.
Meekatharra’s up next, one hundred and sixteen kilometres later. Lunch at the small park next to Meekatharra Creek which actually has water in it. With a rainfall between 200 and 250 millimetres it’s not a surprise that Meekatharra is a Yamatji name for ‘place of little water’.
The asphalt of the Great Northern made it here in 1970. I arrived, in my family’s ghastly Landrover 109 shortly after. Consequently Meekatharra is ingrained in my memory as the place where the dirt roads of outback adventure began. By the mid 70s the asphalt extended the four hundred and twenty kilometres to Newman. By then trips into the remote areas of northern Western Australia with my family had dried up. It took nearly forty years to asphalt the entire 3200 kilometres of Australia’s longest highway. An impressive length given it but runs only within Western Australia and even then not from the bottom to the top.
This is the first time since the early seventies (if I remember correctly) since I’ve been here.
Meekatharra was the ‘emergency’ airport of choice should planes attempting Perth be denied landing there for, say, inclement weather. Many of these planes would have had lots of wannabe Australians immigrating from, mostly, the UK. Of all the culture shocks newby immigrants would have to deal with an arrival and an admittedly a short stay in Meekatharra would have been one of the more extreme. Meekatharra also had a dubious spot in racist white Western Australian culture because of the perception that large numbers of Aborigines lived here and who to white Australia Aborigines were back then. I am ashamed to admit that I too took part in stereotyping First Nation people back then, before I realised just how racist and indeed simply wrong and untrue such stereotyping is.
Mid-afternoon the rains catch me before I find a camp site. Massive dark stormclouds dominate the horizon, disgorging spectacular curtains of rain. I wonder about my traditional strategy for finding a campsite, which involves taking a random track at the opportune time of the day to get away from the road. It’s very likely the rains will have turned such tracks from safe looking but in actuality into potential muddy bogs just waiting for an inexperienced driver to get stuck in.
A bridge. Water in the creek. A track on the left. It’s pushing 1500. I godda try. Tracks’s good, well used and firm. I follow it for a kilometre or more as it increasingly degrades, but the billabong continues. Eventually the track dies out into scrub and rock so I retrace my steps and park in a good location with picnic facilities and the water but a couple of metres away.
Another run, bush bashing over uneven ground, rocks and the coarse grain of the river sand. An hour later I’m doing some stretching and pondering whether to tent or sleep in the back of the Prado. Tent I decide. Suitably sweaty I find some handy tree at the edge of the water whose roots form a convenient step in the water, strip and …
Hmmm … at some point as I head north I enter Crocodile Country. I believe, honestly, that I am well south of this ephemeral line but but but … how would I really know? I believe, right? Right! Gingerly I lower myself into the somewhat opaque water. There are countless anecdotes of people diving into billabongs only to confront The Rock or The Log and do no end of damage to themselves. I needn’t have worried. It’s deeper than I am tall and there are neither rocks nor logs. After a short delightful swim around to wash of the sweat of my run and the day’s drive I exit.
Dinner done I contemplate camping: to fly or not to fly. The rain’s abated and the sky’s clear. Could change at any moment. I decide to set the tent without the fly.
Tent erected bed made beer drunk teeth washed, I’m ready for the sack. But I’m sticky, the air warm and humid. Back down to the billabong. If I thought it spooky swimming during the tail end of the afternoon it’s positively haunting now. Pitch black. I play my Petzl headlamp across the water and are relieved not to see any small glowing orange lights reflected back. It is pitch black. I change the Petzl’s settings to red light and leave on the shore where my handy root step lies so I know where to get out. Refreshed and cleaned of sweat again, I’m once again relieved to exit the water without any drama. Dried I hit the sack.
For some reason I rise from dreamless slumber to that funny half state whereby I’m still largely asleep but aware. There, unmistakeable. That is a drop of water striking my face. Instantly awake I jump out of the tent with the fly in hand and race against the ever increasing intensity of the rain to get it over the tent.
With the heat and the humidity the fly makes the tent a little sauna. Without the fly enough air circulates to keep conditions tolerable. Rain, however, tends to drop the temperature enough to make sleeping comfortable (so long as the fly’s on). I fall back asleep to the strangely comforting drum of heavy rain.
17 February 17
Awaking in the morning the sky’s clear and deep indigo blue, the dawn just setting in.
The vegetation changes too fast. Sometimes not a tree in sight. Other times thick mulga scrub. The odd clump of eucalypts. These three broad vegetation types alternate based on hidden soil and groundwater conditions only they truly understand.
The low scrub and bush starkly green coz of the rain now, against the deep red of the earth. This’ll change to spinifex once I make the Pilbara.
The mulga (acacia) scrub is over head high, somewhat evenly spaced from each other as they compete for what little rains (normally) fall. Few bushes or scrub on the ground.
Where there’s ground water near the surface quite large white-trunked eucalypts, stately and statuesque. Any long distance cyclist appreciates the eucalypts: good shade.
Finally, after a few close calls and sightings I come across one of my favourite critters of the Australian outback: a goanna. A LARGE one too. And not only is it LARGE, it’s a Perentie.
Wikipedia, that knowledge-provider-of-last-resort reckons the Perentie is the fourth largest lizard in the world, reaching 2.5 metres (wikipedia.org/wiki/Perentie). Arkive.org reckons they are the second (arkive.org/perentie/varanus-giganteus). With a name giganteus it’s godda be big and mine is no exception. I don’t think it’s quite two metres, but it’s not far off.
She crossed the road ahead of me and so I hit the anchors pretty hard. Am not sure how I’d have felt had I run her over. Jumping out I gently stalk her. I know from experience that Perenties are fast. Once, waaay back during one of the family’s trips up this way in the early 70s I actually got a hand on the tail of a Perentie which was easily longer than I was tall. I never managed to close my grip coz it took off and disappeared. In retrospect I’m pretty sure I got the better deal since trying to safely handle a pissed of thrashing Perentie longer than I am tall may not have worked out well. For me.
This one’s not exactly afraid of me. Wary, for sure. All puffed up, extended throat, raised on her legs, the odd hiss she’s giving me not so subtle signals that “Hey Buddy, I’m not to be fucked with”. And I’m close, half a meter away. I could conceivable dive and get a hold of her. Then what?
I’m getting plenty of good shots and the odd viddy. I’m content just to walk along with her as she saunters through the scrub, beautifully camouflaged. She’s an exquisite animal and I let her be.
There are green fields up here, extending forever. Somewhat incongruous. If this was your first visit to the area it would seriously create the wrong impression. I’ve never seen it this green. Then again I’ve not been here during the tail end of a very wet wet.
Back in the Tropics again. Nice to be back.
Mount Newman turns up. Chance to see one of the largest mines in the world. Tom Price was enough for me. Time however to restock on essentials and fill up. I take lunch in the shade of the large club house at the recreation ground where I find there’s a shower in the toilet block. A shower later I make my way through the Über-designed mining-town back to the highway and head off. A police car coming the other way suddenly pops them flashing lights turns around and starts following me. I’m on a highway, no trace of urbanisation in sight doing less than ninety. What’s going on? Then I drive past a 70 kilometre per hour sign. Fuck me! It’s a 70 zone! Here we go.
They are nice enough, polite enough, but confused. I’ve a Western Australian driver’s licence driving north with a Northern Territory licenced vehicle. That’s when I realise I don’t have any registration or insurance papers for the Prado. Errr … I explain, to non-comprehending eyes, that I have not hired the hire car – Advanced Car Rentals emblazed on its side – I am relocating it. Blank faces. Oh Boy! Well, I’ve got the car keys, that’s godda amount to something, shouldn’t it? Then the light goes off in the younger cop. “Ah, yeah, I’ve heard about that!” and promptly explains to the more dubious older cop exactly what I just told them.
Two hundred and seventy dollar fine later, I’m free to go.
Nearly one hundred kilometres north I pull into the Mount Robinson rest area. A few paltry shelters offering absolutely no shade to the picnic tables brutally baked by the afternoon sun scything under the eaves. Involuntarily I feel my cyclist eyes slide on and I survey the so-called rest-area. It’s diabolical. There are shelters. But they are small, barely covering the picnic tables nestled under them. No space for a bike. There are a couple of thick canopied trees though, which would compensate. Typical of Western Australian rest-areas there is no water available even though a clean toilet block is provided. The real horror of the Mount Robinson Rest Area is that it’s covered entirely in centimetre sized jagged stones. Impossible to set up a tent here. Surrounding the rest area the land is covered by spinifex. It would be possible to find a space clear of the silicon-tipped spinifex needles. But if I as a cyclist am going to do that I don’t need the rest area at all. Afterall, there’s no water here, the shelters paltry and pretty much useless and the whole aesthetics and comfort factor appalling.
But I am not on a bike. I’ve a fucking great Toyota Landcruiser Prado. I’ve litres of my own water. The four fat tires find no issue with the stones. Sleep in the back and I’ve no problem. Done! Here I stay for the night. It’s blistering hot, that phenomenal sky above, deep red brown purple and burnt orange of the land all exquisitely contrasted by the vivid green of fresh spinifex. A no name gorge dominates the rest area so I head up it. Dry as, but cool out of the full sun’s heat.
Back at the Prado I consider a run up and down the nine hundred meter long access road. It’s still blistering hot and bright as I plod down the hill towards the Great Northern. Nine hundred meters later I start up the hill as an ominous dark shadow rolls towards me. The rain begins before I’ve barely begun my ascent. This is pretty kool I think. A run in the rain will deal with a host of dehydration-overheating-heat exhaustion issues. A split second later – I mean a split split second later – the whole world is a brilliant washed out startling silver white. Oh Boy, thinks I, I got a nasty feeling about this. BOOM! Thunder! Ground shaking filling loosening teeth jarring leg shaking ear-drum busting thunder.
And I wonder, as I trudge up the access road, how does lightening pick a spot to come down. The trees in the rest area are higher than I. The shelters and toilet block made of metal, as is the Prado. I’m a moving target … Bright silver white. BAM! Thunder. Again … Would I be better off, nay, wiser to seek shelter in the Prado, under a shelter, in the toilet block? Or to continue to plod up and down the access road? … Bright silver white. WHAM! Thunder. Again … I continue to plod and are somewhat relieved as the storm moves away and I can actually see the lightening coming down somewhere else. After my run I strip and take a shower in the water running off the roof of a shelter. It’s fair coming down.
Lots of rain, hours of rain, gentle rain, hard rain. Fierce wind. Not bad for a desert.
With the wind there’s not a dry spot anywhere. Except a tiny corner in the toilet block. For sure, the toilets themselves are dry, but I really don’t wanna make my dinner in an enclosed space containing a long-drop toilet. Dinner done I crawl into the rear of the Prado and drift off to the sound of a zillion drummers working the Prado’s roof.
18 February 17
Not a trace of last night’s storm as the Prado slowly descends the access road and gently turns on to the Great Northern Highway. Passed the turn-off to Karajini. For the next thirty-three kilometres I am retracing my Ride I did four month’s previously. Except for visiting Tognolini Rest Area and its impressive view over the Great Northern’s path through Munjina Gorge.
This section of the Great Northern is not the same as that which I endured as a kid in the early 70s in the back of a noisy bumpy uncomfortable late 60s model Landrover 109. Back then it was still gravel travelling due north from Newman to Nullagine and waaay east of its present location which was only opened in 1987.
One hundred and twenty-ish kilometres north of Newman the termite mounds, those icons of the North, begin in earnest.
Tognolini Rest Area and lookout is a 1500 meter steep climb from the Great Northern. In a massive comfortable powerful Prado whereby the only effort I need to do is shift into a lower gear and press harder with my foot, it’s easy. Back in November last year having already climbed the Great Northern through Munjina Pass and having no idea exactly how far the lookout is from the highway, since the fine planners in the Department of Mainroads Western Australia never put distances on the signs to attractions along the roads and highways and there’s a hell of a difference to a cyclist between a three hundred meter steep ascent vs a two thousand meter ascent, I skipped making the effort for the photo-shoot over Munjina Gorge. Today it’s me and a ring-tailed dragon. The views impressive too. Tognolini Rest Area stretches quite a-ways back over the ridge. Y’know come high season, them Gronads and Random Tourists must saturate these areas. The infrastructure to accommodate them is impressive. But for now, it’s just me and Ringed-tail.
I have to pull into the totally inappropriately named Auski Tourist Village and the Munjina Roadhouse. Two nights I spent here. Dust blown, stinking hot, fucking expensive and lacking amenities and the basics. A shithole is how I described it back then. I’m after a decent coffee. “Sorry” the young female attendant tells me (there are a lot of young women working here and no young men, which does beg a question or two) “but we only have instant coffee” indicating a hot water urn, Styrofoam cups, satchels of instant coffee and a three dollar fifty price tag. Three-fifty for an unpalatable caffeine hit? No chance, and I leave without buying a thing.
More green fields. I’m quite taken by all this. For months I crawled down from the north with the 40oC thermocline effortlessly keeping pace with me. It was hot and when it wasn’t hot it was fucking hot. Every day above forty and most days crossing over fifty. And that one spectacular day in the Murchison when it went over sixty and I kid you not I believed it was gonna continue into the seventies. Dry, red and burnt brown, the sweat evaporating before it had a chance to leave the pores in my skin. And now? Not as hot, humid as, and green, very green. The contrast is captivating, beautiful, alluring.
Massive roadtrains rumble by one after the other transporting equipment and supplies to the mine’s which dot the landscape between Auski and Port Hedland and who feed four-trailer roadtrains transporting the mine’s products to Port Hedland’s ports. A good 75% of the traffic on the road are trucks. I’m damned glad I didn’t ride this section of the Great Northern.
I cut through South Hedland, picking up some supplies before taking on some of the most boring road I rode: the Great Northern between Broome and Port Hedland. Took me seven days last time. This time it won’t even take me a full day, although I will overnight at Pardoo for old times sake.
Pardoo Roadhouse lies a hundred and fifty-ish kilometres from Port Hedland. One of my longest ride-days. Had a tailwind for most of it, then thirty kilometres of headwind before ten kilometres of winding through city streets, all in fierce heat. I was knackered at the end of it. Elated, but no less knackered.
A bit over an hour later I pull into Pardoo. Four days’ driving to get here in place of four months’ riding from here to Perth. Kevin, the genial caravan park grounds’ man puts me in a shady spot and we talk beer and drink bullshit for most of the rest of the afternoon. A locust the size of a small bird pays a visit. Everything seems to be oversized in the Outback. The owners of Pardoo are Indian and I enjoy a delightful beef curry for dinner. The pool is a lot warmer than when I was here in October, having had most of the summer to heat up. Early night.
19 February 17
Back on the road. Vast shallow lakes abut the road stretching as far as the eye can see towards the horizon. Imagine, do I, to have a kayak to see just how far the waters go. In October it was dry barren country. Now there are fish in the water. Where the hell they come from? Tern rookeries. Sea birds hunting the fish. The marvels of desert life.
If the intrepid could time it right this just post-rainy period would be an amazing time to ride this stretch. Humid but not so hot. Plenty of water, lots to see.
Far Far North
I live in North
Been furthest North
One can on a Lemon
On a Northern Norway fishing Boat
Noord Kapp North Cape
Went further North
Bjørn Øya Bear Island North
The Most Northern
The North and I
Last time I was at the 2000 kilometre-from-Perth marker it was raining, I had a flat tire and was desperately trying to make Stanley Rest Area praying it would have shelters to protect me from the inclement weather as I performed cycle-surgery (it did). Today the sky’s clear and whilst there’s no rain the green is testament it’s been raining a lot recently.
Roebuck Plains, that sun-baked prairie with a fierce headwind but four month’s previously is now a lake split by a strip of asphalt. There are expansive stretches of water over the road. A phenomenal difference.
At Roebuck Plains Roadhouse the Great Northern turns right towards Wilare, Fiztroy Crossing, Halls Creek and eventually Wyndham. Left the Broome Road heads to Broome. A large digital display a hundred meters up the road towards Wilare tells me the road is closed between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek. Guess my gamble didn’t pay off. Time to choose: wait out the all clear in Broome or in Fitzroy Crossing. The former is a tourist Mecca with a great beach, decent shops and a pleasant ambience. Fitzroy Crossing on the other hand is better known for the tourist sites the intrepid adventure can access from the town rather than the town itself. I elect to stay in Broome.
There are several caravan parks to choose from. I ring around and get wildly varying prices for an unpowered site ranging from a cool 42$ per night to 20$. It’s very ‘off’ season, no tourists around and still they keep the prices high. Except Tarangau. I plan for two nights, phoning Chris to tell him of my predicament. “Just arrive safely” he tells me and not to worry about the delay.
There’s only one other happy camper at Tarangau, although others come and go. I take over the camp kitchen area, catch up on emails, check out Cable Beach, and otherwise enjoy chilling out.
I’m staring at the Surface’s screen thinking what to write. Seeking inspiration I gaze out over the well-treed camping area not really seeing anything when something triggers a Take Note trip-wire somewhere deep in my mind. Earnestly I focus on the trees and garden trying to find what it is that’s caught my subliminal attention. There, on a tree trunk. It’s been at least thirty years but that silhouette is unmistakable. Grabbing my camera I get up and investigate. Sure enough, it is a large frilled necked lizard frozen on the trunk trying to be invisible.
Turns out there’s more than one and I see them frequently sauntering around warily watching me. A key defence strategy of theirs is to climb trees. They don’t really climb high enough, at least at first. As I approach one it moves to the far side of the trunk. Out of sight out of mind out of danger. Stealthily I move to the tree making sure I can see a part of their body but not their head, to avoid eye contact. Once at the tree I simply reach around and grab hold of the lizard. Big animal, sixty centimetres or more long. Although armed with teeth of frightening proportions they are not an aggressive animal, though once I return him to the ground but keep hold of his tail he flares up his famous frill and gives me a show.
My two night stay morphs into a three-nighter.
Tomorrow the stretch to Jabiru and eventually Darwin.
Broome, 21 February 2017