I found myself drawn to the remote Kimberley region of Australia - in the far Northwest corner of the country - our last frontier
June 4, 2018
The sun is starting its descent by the time we leave Broome. A mix-up. Incorrect information. A monumental stuff-up found us car-less, despite having booked it some months ago. The weird thing about the whole situation is the apparent disappearance of the manager of Europcar, who left the car washer in charge of the booth. Heads will roll later, but first, we must get moving as we have about four hours to drive before we arrive at our first stop, and I want to arrive before dusk.
Not long after leaving the town, it becomes apparent that there is a huge distance between towns in this region. We must be vigilant with refuelling the car and ensuring we have plenty of water. We are not in Victoria or New South Wales, with relatively short distances between towns. Fortunately we had already planned on using the Great Northern Highway for this roadtrip, so the 2WD we ended up with after hours of wrangling with the car-washer at Europcar, will be adequate for the trip.
Before long we are on the open road and having left Broome behind us, view the road ahead with some anticipation. The town quickly gives way to scrubby vegetation. The red Kimberley sand extends to the horizon. Before long, we see anthills; small skinny spires, fat wrinkly ones that look like large Buddhas sitting in quiet contemplation, and everything in between. Jokers have personified some, dressing them in t-shirts and other human garments. There are literally millions of them, and they are the ones that are visible. Goodness knows how many are beyond what my eye can see. I will continue to see termite mounds every day until we arrive in Darwin.
Termites live in communities, comprising kings, queens, workers, and soldiers. they spend their entire lives building these hard-crusted palaces from the soil, their saliva and excreta. The colours will range from red to brown during the drive between Broome and Darwin. I notice that many of the mounds are built at the base of trees. Perhaps this is done to provide shade during the hottest parts of the day. The outer crust is as hard as concrete and although I didn't test it out, I have heard that vehicles have been totally written off after crashing into one at high speed. I'm sure nobody would do that deliberately.
Despite the sparse vegetation, the boab tree grows everywhere. It is recognised by its swollen bottle-shaped trunk and is found in the Kimberley region of Western Australia through to the Northern Territory. Although baobabs are found in Africa, the adansonia gregorii variety is only found in Australia. The boabs are deciduous, and whilst some are leafless, I see the last remaining gourd-like fruit still attached to some. Of all shapes and sizes, the boabs are fascinating and during our journey we stop several times, just to take photos. The bulbous trunk stores water, which sustains the tree through the long dry period. The aborigines have used parts of the tree for food, water, and for medicinal purposes. Even the gourds provide vessels to carry water. Some of the trees are so huge and knobbly, they may be over 1000 years old. I am sorry to see that many have been vandalised by some who have scratched their names and drawings into the trunks, like tattoos.
After leaving our accommodation at Fitzroy Crossing, the boabs disappear and the landscape changes radically. The flat, red savannah-style grasslands are left behind as we head east towards the Great Sandy Desert. Before long, large red rocks appear in the distance. Tectonic plate movement is evident in the waves of the rocks as the vegetation is more desert-like. Tussocks of spinifex and grasses are the norm, whilst the occasional copse of short-growing eucalypts indicate that water may be close by. It is time for the annual back-burning, which is done by dropping incendiary devices onto the chosen areas from the air. The blackened areas are a contrast from the yellow of the dry-weather grasses. We decide to check out the Mimbi Caves and turn off the main road. After driving some distance along the compacted earth and gravel road, we reach a gateway. We enter, but within a few metres realise that our 2WD vehicle isn't suitable for the red sandy track, and reluctantly we turn, cursing Europcar yet again.
Along the roadside are tiny flowers, struggling to bloom in this harsh, dry environment. The bright pink and yellow colours are a welcome change from the red and brown colours of the surrounding landscape. Dead trees provide stark contrast to the blackened or the red landscape beyond. The changes from yesterday's grassy flats to today's arid and somewhat rocky views are engaging and as we press forward to our night's accommodation at Hall's Creek.
Our host in Halls Creek has pointed to our car and has told us categorically not to leave the road. We are unable to visit the national parks as we had planned, as they don't have paved roads. I am disappointed, as I was hoping to visit the Bungle Bungles, or the Purnululu National Park, as it's now known. I long for the US-style national parks with their beautifully maintained bitumen roads, information centres and road turnouts for the best photos. I wish that our national parks were based on the principle that all people (in all vehicles) should be able to visit our national parks. Perhaps a fee-based system, such as that in America, could be introduced to cover the costs of the roads and maintenance of the area.
As we leave Halls Creek, it is obvious that we are driving into a geologists idea of heaven. The trees are taller, healthier, and the boabs have reappeared. We are now surrounded by a ring of rocky mountains. The red rocks are reminiscent of travelling through Utah and Colorado last year. There are many red rocks and boulders balancing precariously. The landscape is now very interesting. I see a huge boab tree, and stop to take photos. As I walk toward the tree, camera in hand, I catch sight of a herd of brumbies. The prominent one stares directly at me. I am careful not to look at it in the eye - I have had experiences of being chased by a longhorn sheep, just because I happened to look at it - from a distance. I creep forward, ever alert to sudden movements, and take my photo before returning to the car.
After three long days on the road, we arrive in Kununurra just as the sun is setting over Lake Kununurra, the sky's purple and yellow hues provide a warm and beautiful end to this leg of a long trip through some of the most amazing terrain I have ever seen. We are staying in Kununurra for an extra day.
Title Quote: Brendan Fletcher
Accommodation: Fitzroy River Lodge, Fitzroy Crossing, WA.
Accommodation: Halls Creek Motel, Halls Creek WA.