Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Kimberly Chronicles

Some people spend their whole lives searching for perfection.

If you are Japanese, you might be searching for the perfect cherry blossom. For the Brits, it might be a search for a perfect football premiership. In America, it’s a search for the perfect super-sized hamburger meal deal.

Kris Flanagan’s search for perfection began in Western Australia, for it was here that his life’s purpose was revealed…the search for the perfect boab tree. His journey began in Purnululu National Park, famous for its hundreds of massive black and orange sandstone domes.

Walking amidst the towering 200m high beehive-shaped domes, it was hard to imagine the titanic natural forces that had once been here shaping these magnificent structures. But what better way to appreciate them than on a 20km overnight hike (of course). Hiking through a sandy and pebbly river bed for 20km is not an easy day at the office by any stretch, but when you finish the day sleeping out on a rock with a million stars as your canopy, the reward far outweighs the effort.

Unfortunately for Kris, his perfect boab remained elusive at Purnululu so it was on to our next destination, the Kimberly’s famous Gibb River Road.

The Gibb River Road is synonymous with beautiful scenery, dusty roads and classic Australian off-road adventure – all 3 of which we found in abundance. We were thrilled to discover that the million-hectare El Questro station was not the tourist fiasco we’d imagined it would be, but rather an adventure playground with amazingly beautiful gorges and waterfalls, indulgent hot springs, secluded camping and one of the most breathtaking views we have seen on the trip.

Kris was in photography heaven so it was with great reluctance that we continued on our way west, still searching for the elusive perfect boab.

Next stop was the remote Mitchell Falls, a multi-tiered waterfall in the far north-west of the Kimberly. As you’ve probably come to expect we didn’t see Mitchell Falls as any ordinary person might otherwise do - to capture the falls in a photographer’s perfect light required being at the falls by sunrise.

The falls are a 3.3km hike from the campsite, which rather inconveniently (for me) meant a 4am start and a hike along a rocky track in the dark by torchlight. The hike was going smoothly until we reached a river crossing, requiring us to walk 50m over slippery rocks in thigh deep water to reach the other side.

Now, that’d be fine in the bright light of day when you can see where to put your feet, but not so much fun when attempted in the dark. I knew there were no crocs in that part of the river but thanks to my previous Pavlovian croc conditioning (ie: water = death by croc), my mind was working over time till I was convinced we were completely surrounded by crocs. Unfortunately in my haste to get to the other side I lost my footing and a thong with it. Kris gallantly tried to save it only to fall off a rock and drench himself up to his waist, along with his precious camera bag (I can hear you thinking “fight, fight!”).

So it was two wet, soggy hikers that arrived at the lookout half an hour behind schedule, but we think just in time to see a green thong glide lazily over the falls. On the upside, it was a beautiful sunrise and basking in the warmth of those early morning rays we had the entire falls to ourselves for one whole glorious hour. (An early bird might lose a thong but it definitely catches the worm).

After so much excitement we moved on looking for the still elusive boab, eventually finding our way to McGowan Island Beach. Oh what bliss! - white sandy beaches, turquoise water, fiery red sunsets and really terrific company. The only catch was the presence of a resident saltwater croc and five of our former high school teachers! (What are the odds of that?!)

Kris discovered his own piece of paradise when he heard of an island nearby with an abundance of oysters. Reaching the island required wading through croc-inhabited water (“Don’t worry, they won’t hurt you” we were assured by the owner) but the call of fresh oysters proved too strong for Kris. Together with another camper he set off to claim his prize, thankfully returning with all four limbs still intact and 5-dozen magnificent oysters the size of his hand. (For all you oyster fans, Kris made sure he had enough oysters Kilpatrick and Mornay for all of you).

Despite our wonderful time at McGowan Island beach, the search for the perfect boab was falling behind schedule so we packed up and continued along the Gibb River Road, visiting lovely waterfalls and gorges, covering some seriously dusty kilometres and finally reaching the road to Cape Leveeque.

A local had told us of a shortcut and assured us the road was in great condition. All was fine until we rounded a corner 50kms into the track and were greeted with a flooded roadway. Assuming the track was as muddy and impassable as it looked, we agreed on a path around the flooded area and drove on.

Lesson 1: It is generally better to drive straight through a flooded road than drive around it.

An enormous bog hole and the remains of a recent campfire should probably have rung warning bells that the ground along the side of the track was not as solid as it seemed; someone else had obviously spent the night camped at the side of the road while their car had spent the night trapped in a mud pit. The Big Red Truck lasted a short 20 metres before sinking to its rear axle in mud!

Fortunately we DID have our recovery gear with us on this occasion (unlike a certain previous blog entry way back in January). Naturally the recovery gear was located in the most inaccessible parts of the truck but once it was retrieved we set about a textbook 4WD recovery manoeuvre. Unfortunately nothing we did was able to budge the Big Red Truck from its boggy hole so our only remaining recovery option was to winch ourselves out.

Lesson 2: Winching a 4 tonne truck out of a boggy hole requires a good anchor point.

The only anchor point even remotely suitable for winching the BRT backwards onto solid ground was a feeble looking tree. This attempt was quickly thwarted when the tree pulled straight out of the ground under the strain! So forwards we winched, jubilantly escaping the bog but driving ourselves into more trouble...up ahead lay another 600 metres of water across the road. This time to avoid any further boggy dramas, Kris waded through the water to check the depth and road surface.

Lesson 3: Be selective about which water you wade through.

Kris had covered about half the length of the water-covered road when he realised the floodwater actually fed into a creek, which fed into a river, which fed into a croc-infested bay. Not wishing to find out if any crocs had strayed into the area, he hot-footed it back to the truck and we decided to try our luck driving through the remaining untested water ahead. (The last lot was OK, how bad could this section be right?)

Lesson 4: Never ask how bad something can be.

For every 10 metres we drove, the Big Red Truck sank deeper and deeper until water covered the headlights. Surely this was the deepest point? Surely we would start to rise out of the water soon? But no, the truck sank deeper and deeper until water washed up over the bonnet and lapped at the windscreen. Onwards we drove, desperately willing the truck to rise out of the water and imagining a breakdown and a night spent in the middle of the flooded road in our roof top tent with crocs circling hungrily outside. Eventually the truck did rise out of the water…about 400 metres later!!

(Unfortunately we don't have any photos of the water over the bonnet but the photo below is how things looked at the start).

But our trials were still not over…ahead lay yet another 500m of water! Not wanting to turn back we proceeded forward and again we found ourselves swimming in water over the bonnet! By the time we reached the other end, the carpets in the truck were soaked through and the dashboard had lit up like a christmas tree with warning lights. How we made it through that flooded crossing without car catastrophe or croc carnage is anyone’s guess.

By the time we got to our destination we limped into camp looking like we’d just gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson (minus the bitten off ear) – covered in a thick layer of red dirt, mud and grass curled around the springs, number plate hanging on by one screw, a half deflated tyre from a slow leak puncture, cracked hose in the engine and a shock absorber dragging along the ground!!

But made it we did and it’s here that I find myself tapping away on my computer keyboard from our beautiful beachside campsite. Luckily for us we’ve been able to spend a few days giving our beloved Big Red Truck the TLC it deserves while enjoying spectacular sunsets over the majestic Indian Ocean (these west coast sunsets must be seen to be believed).

Our journey is almost complete now, having achieved our goal of reaching the west coast of this enormous country. It is with reluctance that we must turn our eyes eastward for the very long journey home.

Oh, as for the perfect boab tree, the search continues…

In the next edition of Where’s the Big Red Truck - Two becomes three.


Anonymous said...

Another great tale and beautiful pics. Can't wait to see them all developed. Keep the stories coming!

Anonymous said...

Great words and pics you 2, and glad to hear only a few small issues with the BRT. Will show ya's the HZ in person I reckon, my photography skills won't do it justice. Cheers and Good luck Gaz Kaz and girls

Anonymous said...

hey man, nice story