We got away around 0800 to try and be ahead of others leaving and try to avoid getting caught up in the madness that seems to hit some of the folk driving in and out of the place. Another dusty, corrugated drive punctuated by ‘incoming’ on the UHF as the traffic flow increased. Taking it easy we were blown into the weeds by several vehicles on their way out who clearly had no thought for others nor the risk of a surprise meeting with incoming traffic. When we arrived at the exit to air up they had gone so obviously had not bothered to run the lower tyre pressures so vital in these areas.
We were heading to Wolfe Creek crater on the Tanami track so we cruised along the bitumen spotting potential free camps along the way before refuelling at Halls Creek. Off again to the turn-off and after airing down we started one more leg of our adventure. Around 15 km along, the lead car announced the TPMS alarm was saying their camper had a puncture. They pulled off and were getting tools out as we arrived. Their camper had Goodyear MTRwKevlar tyres which are our favourite offroad tyre, it’s just a pity we can’t get them in 18” for our D4. Although it is a really strong tyre, a rock had put a hole in the sidewall to the extent that, when it was demounted, there was an 11 mm split through 10 mm of rubber and Kevlar so Steve bought the most expensive replacement tyre in the world. Because time had got away from us we headed out to a free camp at Caroline Pool which is a lovely spot. It filled up quickly with other campers and was almost as crowded as some caravan parks. A shower of rain helped clean the dust off the solar panels and camper canvas but we are becoming a really grubby unit and it will be a long time before either the Disco or Ulti get a decent clean.
Up early again and heading to Fitzroy Crossing which is a rather interesting place to say the least. The plan was to stay two nights at the Fitzroy Lodge motel and caravan park which was quite flash to say the least with grassy sites and very nice facilities. More electrical gremlins struck our other Ulti so we had long discussions with the RedArc support team in Adelaide trying to sort them out. Sadly it looks like we are going to have to limp the camper and its failing batteries all the way around the Gibb back to Kununurra where we will be able to replace the batteries and hopefully install some new battery charging equipment as well. I have to say electrical problems are my greatest concern when we travel apart from poor quality fuel. We all rely so much on our refrigeration, lighting, water pumps etc. to keep us comfortable that when something goes wrong it can virtually bring a trip to an end prematurely. These challenges stopped us from taking the Geicke Gorge tour so we committed to that on Thursday morning before heading to Tunnel Creek and camping at Windjana Gorge.
Well we have to once again strongly recommend a tour of Geicke Gorge to appreciate the history and sheer volume of water that flows through this stretch of wild water. We also spotted plenty of fresh water handbags but Pauline is still hankering to see her first salty. We headed up the highway to the turnoff to Tunnel Creek before airing down again prior to starting the next long dirt section. Airing down is a vital part of reducing the risk of punctures, suspension damage and the sheer discomfort that comes with outback travel. We have it down to a fine art now and it is a simple check of the hot pressure prior to dropping around 10psi out of each tyre which will normally bring it back to our preferred cold dirt road pressures the following morning.
Stopping at Tunnel Creek we spent a rewarding hour or so exploring the tunnel, reading the history and understanding the significance of this place and being rewarded by a crawl, paddle and wade from one end to the other and back again. We recommend strong footwear that can be safely worn in water, protects your feet and particularly toes, offers plenty of grip on the rocks (wet and dry) and are comfortable. We use Keen sandals by the way and these have been our choice for around 10 years now. From Tunnel Creek we headed to Windjana Gorge for the next two nights. Arriving we found the campground already filling rapidly so we grabbed a couple of spots, setup and settled in for the final hours of daylight.
We planned to walk the gorge early before the heat really hit so we were off on a 7 km return walk along the river by 0630. It was something you should do but you need decent footwear and plenty of water even at that hour. On the way up we spotted several freshies but with the sun up on the way back we saw around 24 of them basking on sandbanks in the middle of the river. As the day was darned hot again(still), we stayed in the shade until sundowners and sat around chatting with an Australian couple resident in the UK who come to Australia for three months each year to explore and get away from the lack of true open space and bush not seen in Europe. Also aired down a few psi in anticipation of the Gibb River Road and the run to Mt Hart.
Saturday and Sunday
The short run to Mt Hart saw us setting up camp around midday and sorting out solar panels as well as getting the generator out so we could top up the batteries in the car and campers that had run down at Windjana. The manager told us of a great swimming hole so we spent a couple of hours bobbing around in a beautiful billabong full of water lillies, varieties of fish, lots of birdlife and a water monitor holed up in a waterside nest that would have done a bower bird proud. A wonderful way to cool off before sundowners.
Sunday morning up early to beat the heat again as we were walking into a couple of spots to have a look at more waterholes as well as finding the largest boab tree we have seen so far. What made it more interesting was the fact that it was being surrounded by a strangling fig which was winding its way around the massive tree using aerial roots bigger than the boab’s. We spent the rest of a very hot day in the shade getting blogs up to date, tidying up and getting ready for our next three-day stop, Mornington Wilderness Sanctuary.