The road is swarming with tourists driving singular or towing camper trailers or vans from mini size (our size) to humungous 30 footers and 5th Wheelers. Then there are those in Buses and Winnebago’s. Where would we find a camp tonight? The first place we came to was already filling up only about 40km from Halls Creek. Shortly afterwards I spied an old disused road heading away from the highway and towards a river. Did a U-ey and found the old crossing on Upper Panton River about 300metres from the highway and shielded by trees and a lovely tumbling of the river over the edge of the old causeway.
Time to stop methinks and we camped on the causeway itself. Jeddah immediately took to the couch grass on the banks of the river for a roll. Popped the solar panel out in the sun and we settled down for the afternoon.
I was sitting there fiddling with paper maps when I looked up and saw a large dog trundling along the opposite bank of the river. It came to a clearing and then saw me, got the fright of its life and disappeared into the long grass like Houdini. On reflection I think it was maybe a Great Dane Dingo-cross dog. Later in the arvo some Yellow Tail Black Cockatoos flew over and a small flock of Redwing Parrots nested in a tree nearby for the night. Once again our time was thrown out as the sun set at around 5pm when in our minds we know it was 6.30pm. Needless to say we were in bed early again listening to a fading in and out radio station broadcasting from some thousands of kilometres somewhere in the deep south.But we had the place to ourselves and that was all that matters.
Had a good sleep and only heard one or two road trains during the night. Early morning and Jeddah jumps out of the van and into the water. Oops!! We get going and have a pleasant drive looking in at other crowded roadside camp sites. We pass the turn off to the Bunge Bungles but we were there before the crowds and before the national park when only word of mouth knew its position, unless you were a local. We see lots of young Boab Trees and we see three Dingoes including a Black one. We stop at Warmun/Turkey Creek for fuel and something to munch. Diesel is 31cents a litre more expensive than Halls Creek. Some grass fires are burning in the hills and we come so close to one I could feel the heat inside the Datto. There are road-works in progress where new bridges are being built as strangely enough there are still many One Way bridges here in the Kimberley. We were here last in 1986 and I don’t seem to remember this country at all and especially the mountain ranges and hills that make up the rugged Kimberley Ranges. In the middle of a road-works we see a sign to a scenic lookout and we go that way and decide to stay there for the rest of the day. It has a expansive view over the Ragged Ranges and Blatchford Escarpment.
Trucks are hauling sand and water past every hour or so and the drivers give a friendly wave. A tour group pull in for a spot of lunch and I get chatting to the Tour Leader and he looks up a tree in his library of reference books, which has puzzled us for some days. They leave and we sit in the shade and read our novels for a while. The flies are not too pesky! Later in the arvo I decide to tighten the U-bolts nuts on the springs. Its then when I discover that the right hand front main chassis channel has cracked right through!
And the left hand one, which was welded in Cooktown last year, is cracked again. What to do? We fall around for a while thinking up scenarios of how when and where. One option is to go home. Another option is to remove all goodies from van and take it to the dump or give it to the salvos. We decide to lighten the load on the van anyway and start repacking stuff into the Datto. No early night tonight!
We fall into bed at 9pm, exhausted. Sleep isdisturbed too and we have a Chocolate drink at 2.30am. But when daylight comes we decide to make for Darwin and have the little van repaired there. I had rung George up on the Satphone just to get him thinking about what to do. We take off for Kununurra early and when there I make some phone calls to sort out accommodation in Darwin.
Kununurra has grown tremendously but there are even more social problems in the town now than when we lived here in the 1980’s. We have coffee and biscuits down by the lake and head for Timber Creek and Katherine. We stop for lunch at a wayside stop with a cluster of other vans and later we have a powernap at another stop. There are just too many people on the road. They take over these free camp sites by getting there early in the morning and might stay more than a day. We usually look for a scrape or roadside quarry where we will have no noisy neighbours. We soon find one just before Timber Creek and settle down for the rest of the day. The cracked chassis is holding up well and has not moved since this morning. The road is much smoother now and I can sit on 75kmh to keep an even speed. Today we saw some Kites and Jabiru and all shapes and sizes of Boab Trees.
When God made the earth he also made the Boab (Baobab in Madagascar and Africa) Tree. He said to the tree that it would be the most beautiful tree in the world and that it should bear sweet fruit. But when the fruit ripened they had a disgusting taste to them. God got so angry that he grabbed the tree and replanted it upside down as punishment. And that is why the Boab Tree’s branches look like tree roots!
We are on the road by 7.30 and soon we tackle a Scenic Lookout Road which takes us to the top of the range. We needed Low Range gears to get up there though. We stop at Timber Creek and buy a fridge magnet. Then we drive the Victoria Highway along this very scenic valley. We went for a walk down to the Old Victoria River crossing. The river is quite low now and it is hard to believe that it can rise up to 25metres in a big wet season.
We refuel at Victoria River Roadhouse and 193km later we are in Katherine. Along this journey the old Datto’s speedo clicks over on to 450,000km! Just run in someone said……..
At Katherine I notice that the left side chassis railing is also cracked. We make some phone calls and are back on the road within an hour. Only about 320km to go! We call in to a friend’s place at Pine Creek but she isn’t home. Whilst looking for the track to MacDonald WW2 Airstrip we find a large roadside quarry and turn in there and about 300 metres off the road we find a camp spot. There is plenty of fire wood and the area is clear of grass. A good camp, though there was some road train noise.
Up and on the road by sunrise and on the last leg to Darwin. Grassfires have burnt the country and new green growth is covering the plains and the place looks fresh. We stopped at Adelaide River to take some photos and bumped into some travellers from home.
The next stop was at the Strauss WW2 Airstrip and then we made it into Darwin after taking the wrong road and getting seriously lost! Even the 2012 Darwin Roadmap is out of date!!
The caravan chassis held together by pure good luck and now we will evaluate our situation and see where it takes us. We are expecting to hang around the Top End for some weeks catching up with old friends and seeing all the new sights.