By the time we made it to the coral coast region of Western Australia it was already getting too hot and windy. We spent too long around Gibb River Road and Cape Leveque. We skipped through pretty quickly, agreeing we’d have to return some time in the future. Hearsons Cove near Dampier was a highlight, what a great spot for swimming and hanging out. We also did a nearby walk through some hills to see aboriginal rock art, but they must be bloody hard to see, we weren’t sure whether we saw any art or not.
At Fortescue Roadhouse there’s a small miners camp servicing Citic Pacific’s Sino iron ore venture. There’s a wet mess there and I couldn’t resist sneaking in for a beer. Ahhh the good old days of FIFO. Wait a minute, those days sucked.
With no luck catching threadfin salmon around Broome and Cape Leveque, it was time to get serious and actually catch one. I did that at Barn Hill, a spot at the northern end of 80 Mile Beach.
Apart from fish, Barn Hill also produces bush tucker, with Gubinge (terminalia ferdinandiana) planted around the camping area. It’s the world’s most concentrated natural source of vitamin C.
Next was 80 Mile Beach Caravan Park, but not before a quick stop at Sandfire Roadhouse for a beero. Fishing at 80 Mile beach delivered shark after shark. One notable catch was a small hammerhead. I’ve never caught one before and it was interesting seeing the hammer up close. I chucked him back.
At the southern end of 80 Mile Beach is Cape Keraudren. It’s an interesting area with lots of different habitats, reef, mangroves, creeks, beach and coral. We collected a load of oysters off some reef, from the outside they looked like reasonable size but actually the meat was very small. I tried fishing for more salmon, inspired by the 84 year old chap camped next door to us who seemed to be able to catch a couple every time he went out. I dunno how how he does it, I caught nothing.
Cape Keraudren, with the interesting natural environment and reasonable camping facilities, would be a sweet spot to hang out for a while, if it wasn’t for the superabundant midge population. I think it’s the most amount of midges we’ve ever experienced, particularly at the lower camping areas close to the mangroves.
Apparently the Cape Leveque Road was initially constructed as an aqueduct to collect and channel water south to drier areas. The remnants of this design can be seen today, with the road cut a couple of meters into the surface of the ground and negative inward sloping camber. It’s like driving down a canal but with big ass pounding corrugations instead of water.
First stop Beagle Bay to see the Church. Sharni has a friend living in Beagle Bay so we stayed with her for a couple of nights. Then onto some of the many spots at the northern tip of Cape Leveque – Middle Lagoon, Pender Bay, Kooljaman, Lombadina and Cygnet Bay. We enjoyed several nights staying at the Cygnet Bay camping area having a coupla drinks by the swimming pool. Sharni’s friend from Beagle Bay met us for a day trip to visit a friend living at Tappers Inlet – a spot not open to the public.
At Pender bay we met up with a couple we’d met several times before on our travels along Gibb River Road and went out on their little dinghy, catching a Mackerel. Other spots produced mainly sharks and one undersized bluebone. One shark was notably large, maybe 1.5m, and was a handful getting in. I let that one go but caught an 80cm specimen which was kept for dinner. It fed us and our camping neighbours.
The west coast of Cape Leveque has some good free camping spots, nice beaches and some fishing. No facilities, all bush camping. I was hoping to land many threadfin salmon, especially since one of the beaches is nicknamed salmon beach, but had no luck. I caught many of these small trevally looking fish but nothing else. Quondong beach was good camping and nice beach, no midges, but not much fish. A few spots up the coast are really bad for midges. Coulomb point seemed more productive for fishing, with a bit more activity, bait fish, bigger fish feeding. I got a good hookup but it busted my rig and by that stage I was out of bait and called it quits.
Remote beach camping is one of my favourite types of camping. I would have happily chilled out for weeks at some of the spots up the west coast (would have needed a run into Broome for beer and bait) but there’s plenty more to Cape Leveque than a couple of remote beaches so next we headed up towards the northern tip.
I’ve been thinking about returning to Broome since having a short holiday there in 2003. I remember cable beach being awesome and the weather perfect. I didn’t have a 4WD then and was jealous of all the folk driving up cable beach and setting up shop to watch the sun set.
On this trip I made up for it with a few cable beach sunsets. Not that you need a 4WD, the sand is so flat and hard packed that people ride out on their 50cc scooters. Chilling out on the beach is one of my favourite things to do even when not on cable beach. But when there’s a vast area of white flat powdery sand, 30 degree temperature, no wind, no midges, calm water and impressive sunset it’s even better. And the mood on the beach is great, with heaps of others in good spirits enjoying it.
Other than cable beach we also enjoyed the markets, went fishing at a few different spots, had nice Indian dinner at a fancy restaurant, had beers and dinner at the Broome Fishing Club, visited the Broome Aquarium and checked out Gantheaume Point.
Telegraph pool is on the Fitzroy River and was recommended as a top barra spot. On the way there we stopped at the Willare Roadhouse for some locally grown steak. It’s on a cattle station and the restaurant sells their home grown beef along with beer, both are delicious.
The road into telegraph pool is a little bumpy and corrugated which was a slight concern with the broken leaf spring. I caught one undersized barramundi and nothing else. People have landed whoppa barras here but I had no luck. The leaf spring held up ok and we made it in and out without any problems.
Now that we made it to Broome it was time to sort out the leaf spring along with a couple of other Gibb River Road casualties. The bull bar side wing underguard pans broke at the mount on both left and right sides. And the long range fuel tank developed a crack that fuel was leaking from. All the problems were related to aftermarket accessories. The leaf springs are Ironman, the bull bar is ARB and the fuel tank is Outback Accessories. All original bits of the hilux held up fine.
I drove to the Ironman dealer in Broome and showed them the broken leaf spring. The leaf springs were around 5 years old and out of warranty but I was hoping Ironman would share the cost for some good will. To my surprise they agreed to give me two brand new leaf springs for free. Nice work Ironman!
With such a good outcome I decided to see if Outback Accessories would offer the same deal. The fuel tank was already on the car when I bought it second hand so I don’t know how old it is but could be up to 10 years old. Outback Accessories said it was too old and they couldn’t help. Not even share some of the welding repair costs. Bummer. It’s disappointing that an expensive fuel tank doesn’t last the life of the vehicle but sometimes you get unlucky, especially after several tens of thousands of kilometers of corrugations. I removed the tank and took it to some local repairers to get the crack welded up.
The ARB bull bar I fashioned a dodgy fix with some metal plate to hold the underguard pans in place. I’ll weld them up properly when settled back at home.
The hilux has a problem that appeared on the way out of Bell Gorge. There’s an intermittent grinding noise and I have to turn the steering wheel off centre to drive straight. It feels like the issue lies in the front end and, not wanting it to develop into something serious that would have us stranded, I jacked her up at the Windjana Gorge camping area and took the front wheels off to make a diagnosis. I couldn’t find anything wrong so I put it all back together hoping the problem will reveal itself later in a gentle way. We still had maybe around 100km of bad corrugations to endure before we’d reach the bitumen then a further 75km to Derby where we can get a diagnosis and repair. We’ll take a punt and see if we make it.
Windjana Gorge is notable for all the fresh water crocs that reside there. It’s one of the best spots to see them. The gorge itself and the walk through is also pretty good.
Tunnel Creek is great. Walking through the tunnel from one side of the Napier Ranges to the other is a unique experience. It’s completely dark in the tunnel and you get to wade through water and negotiate obstacles via torch light. At the far end of the tunnel there’s some aboriginal rock art and a huge fig tree.