Out of the desert and into the Kimberley region where we look forward to less dust and more fishing and swimming. We’ll be catching barramundi soon enough.
The Tanami Track finishes just south of Halls Creek where some friends of ours live. We stayed with them for several days. It gave us a nice base to explore the area and service the hilux, which ticked over 160,000km on our way up the Tanami. We visited a few of the local attractions like China Wall, Palm Springs, Old Halls Creek and the Kimberley Hotel.
From Halls Creek we headed up to the Bungle Bungles for a few days. The track in is rough, slow and hard on vehicles. I think it took us something like 5 hours to travel the 60 odd km to the camp grounds. Our favourite attraction is echidna chasm. The sun coming through the narrow chasm looks impressive and the walk is fun. Cathedral Gorge and all the other spots are pretty good too.
Back on the highway heading north, we stopped off at Warmun to look at the famous aboriginal art gallery. I started feeling dizzy when I saw the prices so I left Sharni in there and went for a walk to take some photos of white cockatoos hanging out in boab trees.
The Tanami Road starts as a nice bitumen road just north of Alice Springs but quickly turns into a typical dusty and corrugated outback track. There’s not much to see over its 1,000km length other than Wolfe Creek meteorite crater and the odd horse, but still is worthwhile to experience. There’s something relaxing and unique about travelling through the desert country.
It took us 3 nights to complete the track – two nights camping at gravel pits on the side of the road and one night at the Wolfe Creek camping area. We quickly checked in at Yuendumu aboriginal community on the way through to have a look at the art center.
The track condition deteriorates towards Halls Creek, becoming pretty rough as it passes through some rocky hilly country. A couple we bumped into a few times ran out of fuel, not anticipating the increased fuel use through the rough bit. There’s plenty of traffic and they didn’t have to wait long until someone with jerry cans stopped to top them up.
Kings Canyon is a gorge a few hundred kilometers from Uluru that we didn’t get to see last time we traveled through. Actually we missed a whole chunk of spots in the area. This time we left Uluru and did Kings Canyon, then the badly corrugated Mereenie Loop Track up to Hermannsburg and Palm Valley.
Palm Valley in Finke Gorge National Park was a standout. The awesomeness starts immediately with the track going in. The track is easy so doesn’t feel like you’re hammering the crap out of your car, but still feels like fun offroading as it follows the Finke River through some hills and arid landscapes. Often the track is actually the Finke River itself. It’s not often you get to navigate a river in a car!
Driving on Finke River in Finke Gorge National Park
The camp grounds are also great. It’s set among some beautiful red hills and cliffs and has good facilities: water, gas bbqs, flushing toilets and even warm showers. This is all at standard Northern Territory national park prices. There’s a nice little walk out of the camp grounds to Kalarranga rock formations.
Then Palm Valley itself is also awesome. The short vehicle track from the camp ground to Palm Valley travels through some nice red cliffs and rock formations and through a few steep dry creek crossings. It’s much rougher than the first track into the camp grounds but it’s only a few km long.
Track into Palm Valley
Steep rocky section of track
The Palm Valley walk is easy and a bit different than your usual gorge walk. A lot of the walk is in the river valley itself, which is a piece of cake since the valley is bed rock worn smooth by the water flow a few years ago. The palms and dark red cliffs and smooth river valley make it a unique walk.
Here is an artistic photo of the red cliffs with the shadows of the palms on the cliffs. Most people just take photos of the actual palms.
After a couple of nights in Palm Valley we visited Hermannsburg – an old aboriginal community that started as a Lutheran mission in 1877. We grabbed a pie at the bakery, coffee and scones at the cafe and checked out some of the old buildings.
I twisted Sharni’s arm and convinced her that we should tackle the Bullita Stock Route after our night at the Bullita camp ground near the homestead in Gregory National Park. It’s a long, slow drive so you need to be ok with that and prepared to tolerate some amount of nagging and complaints. The track follows a section of the Bullita Stock Route through Gregory National Park on its way to Wyndham, Western Australia. It’s around 92km all up, including a 23km return detour to Drovers Rest camp ground which is where we camped. Without the detour it’s 69km. Sections of the track are pretty steep, rocky and rough, definitely requiring a decent 4WD with low range. Other parts are firm sand which was easy to traverse at full tyre pressure. The track takes you through some steep creek crossings, dry river bed crossings, rugged rocky bluffs and hills and of course via a few huge majestic boab trees. The trip took 6.5 hours in total – 4.5 hours from Bullita camp ground to Drovers Rest camp ground, and around 2 hours from Drovers Rest to the intersection with the main access road to Gregory National Park. The information guide suggests 8 hours to complete, so we came in under time.
I’d suggest checking out the steeper descents on foot to gauge the best line before taking the vehicle down. Unlike me, who took a poor line and dropped the front left wheel off a rather large boulder, bashing the side step nicely and giving the hilux a tough 4WD look and improved ground clearance. Don’t worry, those side steps are disposable, they’re meant to be smashed up. Probably where we made up the 1.5 hours time saving from the recommended 8 hours. The track isn’t too hard core though. Didn’t need the diff locker. Choose good lines and avoid the big boulders and it’s not too bad.
The banging around on the rough rocks also caused the bracket for a spot light mounted on my roof rack to fail. Nice opportunity to do a dodgy fix with some wire.
The Bullita stock route is a pretty long drive so most people camp the night half way through. We camped at the Drovers Rest camp ground, on the banks of the East Baines River. It has no facilities except for a wood bbq and is very dusty. The fine bulldust will penetrate anything and will make you pretty dirty. Also quite a few flies in the area, but no where near as bad as what we encountered on Googs Track. Still a pleasant remote camping area good for a night’s stop over. We cooked using the billy that night, and I made a billy tripod and hook to hold it above the fire. Other than that we relaxed by the fire, admired the boabs, enjoyed the quiet remotness and retired early ready for the drive out the following morning.
There are a couple of other camping areas off the track before the Drovers Rest camp ground, similarly located and with no facilities except for wood bbqs. These sites are just off the main track, so you can camp at one of these to avoid the large detour to Drovers Rest.
Camping in the roof top tent, Drovers Rest camp ground, Gregory National Park, Northern Territory
Excited to finally reach civilization and sealed road we arrived at Balladonia which is the first stop along the Nullarbor after Norseman. Balladonia is famous for the 1974 Skylab Crash and even has a Museum inside the Balladonia Roadhouse. The museum is full of information about the crash and wreckage from the skylab on display (John, I took most of these pictures mainly for your viewing pleasure). We had dinner at the Balladonia Roadhouse Pub and camped the night at the attached caravan park which had a basic camp kitchen and toilet facilities. We would’ve liked to have done some clothes washing after 10 days of bush camping but there was no laundry.
Mt Ragged in Cape Arid National Park is a 585 meter high mountain roughly 40km from the coast. In preparation of the climb Joe crafted me a hiking stick out of a tree branch using a machete, a large bush knife and a small folding knife. Check out the before and after shots. It also kept him occupied for a day while I watched the entire season of Day Break.
The climb was a tough steep ascent with the track overgrown in parts with thorny scrub. Towards the top we had to hoist ourselves up decent sized rock faces and imagine it wouldn’t be much fun for people who were scared of heights. After lots of whinging on my behalf we made it to the top where we had full mobile phone reception. We used the opportunity to call home. Joe rang his Mum and I had a video chat with my Dad using skype while showing him the amazing views. There was also a wooden box at the top with notebooks full of messages of people who has made it to the top. The way down was as adventurous as the way up with a few bum-slides down some rocks. It was a satisfying climb with a few challenges and a great view from the top.
Finally arriving at Mt Ragged in Cape Arid National Park after our epic effort to get there from Israelite Bay we set up camp for three nights at the rarely used Mt Ragged campsite. The campsite had a large fire pit and clean long drop toilet. We were there alone and did not see another soul for our three days camped there and on the entire track from Israelite Bay to Balladonia Road. We took advantage of the fire pit and roasted a rack of pork with potatoes in the camp oven, yummy! We also had our first shower in 9 days using the solar shower bag and Joe washed my hair using the weed sprayer water dispenser, almost as good as a salon wash. The second day we dedicated to climbing Mt Ragged.