Further afield – Darwin to Broome

The Kimberley or the one in which Jonty traveled over 2,000km overland through remote Australia, ran 46km at dawn, dusk and dark in the outback, camped under the stars, didn’t speak German, got lost, swam in idyllic pools at the end of palm tree filled gorges, has never been dirtier or smellier, and saw no snakes, mosquitoes or spiders, but plenty of giant fruit bats, crocodiles, bizarre trees and red earth.

Auckland to Darwin
A long and strange first day, starting at 4am in a dark and wet Auckland, and ending in a sunny, 34C and humid Darwin. On route via Brisbane I witnessed near riots involving the domestic terminal transfer bus. Caused by a combination of poor queuing etiquette, non-existent bus stop design, and an irate lady of Welsh origin but seemingly now a Brisbane native.

My experience of Australian hostels continues to differ from any I’ve stayed at in New Zealand. Their prime function here appears to be purely as party venues, with associated levels of hygiene and noise. The kitchen was fully equipped with cooking equipment but completely lacking in any utensils or crockery to eat your cooked food with. Turns out that they’re carefully guarded behind reception, where a request for a bowl and spoon to eat my breakfast with was greeted with a deep reluctance and seeming scepticism, despite the bowl of muesli under my arm. Clearly cutlery theft is a major issue here, though given the near absence of baskets in the nearby Coles, this may be plausible.

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Darwin was the expected non event, full of mostly hideous buildings, surprisingly average coastal scenery, and without a car it’s not very easy to escape the CBD. Clearly there has been a recent and large investment in the Darwin Waterfront, which is pleasant enough, but a distinctly poor relative of Brisbane’s South Bank. I did however like the modern Christ Church Cathedral (most of the original was destroyed by Cyclone Tracey in 1974) and the impressive Northern Territory Parliament building, the politicians clearly taking priority.

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Darwin to Katherine
Another early start, wasn’t quite sure if the people wandering the corridors at 5am were early risers or had just stayed up all night. Certainly the excitable and loud groups at 3am had been making the most of their evenings, and were in a sharing mood.

My keenness to load my bag first onto the giant truck / home for the next nine days backfired when I was tasked with loading everyone else’s bags. Hot work even at 7am!

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Despite it being the end of the season, as The Dry ends, the temperature and humidity builds up to the start of The Wet from November, the trip was full. Twenty people, mainly German speaking it seemed, seven Swiss German’s, three Germans, and two Austrians, along with a couple of British couples, American, Irish and Australian. Unexpectedly I was the closest thing to a Kiwi, though given that more than 80% of people I mentioned the trip at home to had never heard of The Kimberley, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. The mix worked well though, Germanic efficiency keeping us organised and on time, which suited me well.

Four hours driving brought us to Edith Falls, where everyone took a well needed dip in the upper pool, other than myself and a Swiss lady who thought that a 45 min fast walk along a rocky track sounded more appealing…

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Moved on from Edith Falls to Katherine, the last town of any decent size for 600km, in order to watch the AFL final. Crazy game in in which ironically for what is known as Aussie rules football, seemingly doesn’t have any rules. Bonus points for atmosphere, watching it in a predominately Aboriginal bar, clearly strong supporters of the ultimately unsuccessful West Coast Eagles.

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Even for a game involving no rules and played on an oval pitch, the novelty and interest factor wore off fairly quickly though. Discovered that Katherine had a rich railway history, including a station, engine, bridge and water tanks, which were just about interesting enough to justify walking around in 37C heat and high humidity.

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One unexpected sight in Katherine was Asian lady on a bike wearing a face mask and giant golf hat (pretty common in my experience, though perhaps without the bike), who then stopped by the bin I’d just walked passed for a good rummage around.

Got to the campsite outside Katherine with plenty of time for a run. Running in the afternoon sun, 34C and high humidity, while worried about snakes, crocodiles (ran to a river 2km away and back) and getting lost, wasn’t the easiest running experience, but certainly a memorable one.

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Katherine to Lake Argyle
Another jet lag enhanced early start at 5.20am, though it turned out to be 4.20am, with my iPhone and iPad deciding to disagree about the time over night. The long morning was made even longer by gaining an hour and a half crossing the border into Western Australia, which was like entering a new country, with strict bio security controls.

The landscape barely changed in 600km, and indeed for much of the trip, quite incredible compared to the variety of New Zealand. It was a lot greener than expected though, particularly given the lack of rain for six months.

Got to Lake Argyle camp ground with time to set up our tents in daylight, welcome given that I’ve not assembled a tent in more than twenty years. Thankfully found that they’ve become significantly easier than the last tent I used, my Dad’s dating from the 1950s.

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Took a boat trip on Lake Argyle, the largest man-made lake in the world, and a beautiful spot. Half the group went for a swim and some rock jumping, before we headed on a little further to find fresh water crocodiles, apparently harmless to humans, but with 25,000 in the lake there was markedly less enthusiasm for more swimming.

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Enjoyed a rather beautiful sunset before heading back to camp to sit around a fire, slightly unnecessary in 32C weather but kept the bugs away. In general though there were far fewer bugs than I’d expected, lots of flies depending on the time of day but no mosquito bites, and no snakes or spiders. Just lots of birds, some wild cows, a few lizards, couple of frogs and a number of wallabies.

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Lake Argle to Purnululu National Park
Found a slightly more sensible time to run, at 5am when it was only 27C, though cloud obscured the rising sun. Morning spent in Kununurra, which with 7,000 people is home to a quarter of the population of The Kimberley. Enjoyed helping out with the shopping (for 21 people for six days), refueling (over 200 litres) and navigation (to Kelly’s Knob over looking town, and lunch stop in Mirima National Park).

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Long afternoon drive and set up camp at night in Purnululu National Park, close to the Bungle Bungles. A basic camp site with just a toilet, but a pleasant 21C and sleeping out under a star filled sky is a pretty good way to end the day.

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A world heritage site Purnululu National Park is 240,000 hectares of nature at it’s best, which I explored by land and air. From the bizarrely named Piccaninny walked out to the lookout, the Window, Whip Snake Gorge and Cathedral Gorge, saving easily the best for last. Huge, echoey and colourful, though lacked the dehydrated frogs of Whip Snake Gorge. If running the last few days had been tough, walking 11km in 43C heat with no shade put in things in perspective.

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Easier, and even more scenic if scarier was half an hour in a open cabin helicopter over Purnululu National Park. Too much to take in really, tried to balance taking plenty of photos with enjoying the experience, possibly not entirely successfully.

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Echidna Chasm was the best walk so far, just spectacular and lot like how I’d imagine Petra in Jordan to be, no stunning carvings, but hardly any people and plenty of palms trees. World away from anything in New Zealand, a very special place.

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A somewhat surreal evening, in one of the more remote parts of the world, watching Crocodile Dundee projected onto the side of the truck, and eating a roast dinner. Also had my first experience of the Tim Tam challenge, using a chocolate biscuit as an alternative to a straw.

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El Questro
After a morning on the bus, the highlight of which was an ice cream at 9am (had left camp by 6.30am), was good to stretch the legs (and arms) in the afternoon with a walk / scramble / climb / swim in the El Questro Gorge. Made it to Mac Micking Pool at the end for my first dip of the trip, cooled down underneath a waterfall, pretty idyllic.

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Benefits of dawn runs, wallabies jumping about, seeing the sunrise from the top of Telecom Hill and guilt free pancakes for breakfast afterwards.

Emma Gorge was a much easier walk, ending in a blissfully cool pool underneath a waterfall, nice place for a swim!

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Zebedee Springs would have been amazing had I seen them day one but seen a lot of better things since. One can get used to idyllic glades of palm trees and hot springs far too quickly.

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Chamberlin Gorge is home to a rather large saltwater crocodile so we didn’t stay there long.

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Just getting to Branko’s Lookout was quite an experience, across the bumpiest road I have ever been on, high risk of getting throw out of one’s seat. In the evening saw a 4×4 being towed back to camp which had attempted and failed to make it up to the lookout. The views at sunset though were worth the effort.

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Night running before dinner was an interesting experience, quite disorienting heading along an endless dirt road and back. We were introduced to another culinary delight for dessert, roasted banana with chocolate, custard and blueberries.

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Gibb River Road
Long morning covering a good chunk of the unpaved 665km Gibb River Road, an extremely bumpy and monotone dirt road through the heart of The Kimberly, enlivened only by an unexpected stop for scones, and an emergency stop to take a good look at a frilled-neck lizard, involving a bit of tree climbing.

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From the campsite we took a small pulley boat across to the start of the Manning Gorge Track, pretty dull in itself but worthwhile at the end, with great swimming spots and light filled as the sun set.

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Finished what turned out to be a very eventful day, with pretty much everything that could go wrong, going wrong, though thankfully with few permanent effects. In no particular order – a milk carton exploded in the back resulting in a rancid mess, the engine had issues and lost half it’s power (thankfully later fixed), I dropped my camera and came close to corrupting the memory card, and the door handle nearly fell off the truck.

Walking back from the gorge I was too busy talking (a rare occurrence) and got myself and another lost. We shouted to others who we thought were on the path, but turned out they were also lost and thought we were on the path! Made it back before sunset which was better than another member of the group, who we took sometime to establish wasn’t actually back at the campsite. Those who went thought that he was hiding at the site, and those who stayed behind thought he was hiding on the track. Eventually we established that neither group were joking and that he was actually lost. Thankfully about ten minutes later, 1.5 hours after we made it back, he emerged from the darkness, pretty sweaty but otherwise fine.

Getting used to the dawn starts at 4.45am, which is the best time for go for a run, as from when the sun is up properly, about 6.30pm, it remains roasting hot (40C+) for the rest of the day. Managed 7.5km with my running partner. We’re pretty evenly matched for pace, if I get tired I just ask them more questions.

Leaving Manning Gorge campsite stopped at Barnett Station for an 8am ice cream, before heading onto Bell Gorge. Another beautiful and different spot where I happily, if sweatily, clambered around the banks of the gorge taking photos, while others undertook some amateur canyoning.

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Finished the day at Windjana Gorge, a pleasant walk, followed by watching giant fruit bats fly down the gorge and drink at the freshwater crocodile infested pool, where a few tried, unsuccessfully it seemed, to eat the bats.

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Quick stop at the remains of the Lillimooloora Police Station before onto Tunnel Creek, a 1km tunnel system, home to freshwater crocodiles and lots of bats, which were pretty cool to watch flying in to roost.

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Sobering lunch stop at a huge and ancient Boab used to hold aboriginals captured as slaves. Close by was the longest water trough in the Southern Hemisphere.

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Broome
Final stop at Broome’s beautiful Cable Beach to watch the sunset, though my camera proved as prone as my clothes to the build up of dirt over the past ten days. Broome itself reminded me of Milton Keynes, in a spread out, roundabout infested manner, but with fewer people, much higher temperatures, red earth everywhere, and a huge big beach. The weather forecast for Auckland was 18C and rainy, sounded like heaven…

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7 thoughts on “Further afield – Darwin to Broome

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