Cape Rose Trip 1999

In 1997, we bought a RL24 trailer sailer, with the express purpose of learning to sail and undertaking a trip along the coast of Western Australia from Perth to any points beyond. Our sailing knowledge was limited to a few times crewing with Christine's brother on his Viking 30 so the learning curve was a steep one. We purchased the RL24 second hand as a very bare boat and spent the next 6 months fitting out the inside to suit our needs and naming her "Cape Rose", after one of our favourite locations in Shark Bay. By June 1999, we were ready to set off on the big adventure.



Day 1 - Saturday 29 May 9

We left Perth around 11:00am, planning to drive to Greenhead. The Brand Highway was reported closed at Pels Bridge, Dongara due to flooding. The trip was uneventful.

On reaching Greenhead, a check with Main Roads reported Pels Bridge open but Brand Highway closed north of the S Bend.

Went down the jetty to fish for squid. We only got one small one. The two boys fishing on the jetty had an interesting catch of yellow fin whiting, huge herring and squid.

Day 2 - Sunday 30 May

The Brand Highway reopened early so we set off. The water on the Greenough flats was amazing, with many crops totally under water. The Irwin River was still running over the road but it was passable.

We reached Denham without incident and set up camp at the rear of Dawson's. We tried squidding on the jetty and managed 4. Looks like Pad-Thai tonight.

Shark Bay

Day 3 - Monday 1 June

We awoke to overcast conditions but with a good sailing breeze consisting of a moderate Easterly. After stocking up on essentials and leaving trip details with the local sea rescue, we headed off on course for Useless Loop.

In the channel, things began to get a bit interesting, with the tidal flow helping the wind waves. Still, we managed very well and maintained 7 to 8 knots in a reasonably upright position.

From Useless Loop, we headed South, anchoring in a beautiful protected bay with attendant island called Ant Island. We slept. I snorkelled. Christine cooked the most magnificent Pad Thai noodles with fresh squid.

Day 4 Tuesday 1 June

The morning was clear with moderate South Easterlies. From our overnight anchorage, we sailed southwards towards Lefebre Island. Unfortunately, this meant tacking and a lot of extra time but the sail drill is good for us.

Lefebre Island is a small rock outcrop with some beautiful corals on the western side. We anchored over these for fishing and lunch. I had some early success with a couple of nice black snapper and losing a pink snapper and a good sized cod. The black snapper were released, a gesture I was to regret. The fish went off the bite suddenly, not to return for the rest of the day, either at Lefebre Island or anywhere else we tried. A very fishless day. Luckily, we had delicious steak sandwiches for lunch and stir fry chicken for tea.

From Lefebre Island, we motored in calm conditions down into Boat Haven Loop, an idyllic place with numerous islets and rocky headlands. Almost everywhere you look is a favourable anchorage. Pity there are no fish. The lack of fish is hard to explain. There is some magnificent country here with plenty of reef, small black mussels that the snapper love. The fish have simply gone elsewhere as they are want to do.

Day 5 Wednesday 2 June

The day was almost completely windless. We were forced to motor everywhere we went, sometimes managing a little help from light breezes. From Boat Haven Loop, we crossed over to Fowlers Camp, just South of Eagle Bluff. On the way, we stopped at Lefebre Island and caught a couple of good sized Black Snapper for our tea. We searched in vain for some reef we had been told about off Fowlers Camp then opted to motor North to Eagle Bluff. There we fished with little success and I snorkelled. By late afternoon, the weather was starting to look ominous, with rain squalls visible to the north although the winds were still very light. We radioed the Shark Bay Marine Rescue to get a weather update but nothing nasty was suggested. We anchored up between Eagle Bluff and Eagle Island for the night. High above us on the top of the cliff were the lights of a caravan spending the night at the lookout car park. The gulls nesting on Eagle Island competed with Christine’s snoring and I scratched away at my mozzie bites. A bad night! The only saving grace was the wind blowing a steady South Easterly promised a great sail back to Denham the next mooring.

At anchor in Boat Haven Loop

Day 6 Thursday 3 June

The wind has gone again. It’s difficult to believe the sea can be so glassy. We didn’t even bother with the sails, electing to motor back to Denham. Only in the last 3 miles did the wind come up, a Westerly that promised to increase to the point where it would make retrieving the boat onto the trailer difficult.

This proved correct, the boat doing its very best to remain in the water. We finally got it on, dragged it into the car park only to discover that it was not central on the trailer rollers. We had to go and do the whole thing over again, made even more frustrating by the difficulty of launching when the boat is not prepared to roll off the trailer.

When finally back to camp, we showered (luxury) and had a well earned afternoon nap.

Later, we dropped in at the school and spoke to the staff. We owned up to being responsible for the tomb-like stone structure on the front lawn, it holding a time capsule laid down during the Way ’79 celebrations. The Principal said he’d heard rumours of a time capsule but had wondered about it. He promised to leave a note about the planned opening in 2000 for his successor next year.

The school has grown to 80 children and 5 staff. It certainly looks good.

Day 7 Friday 4 June

I was up early to head off down to the jetty for some more squid. I managed three good ones in only 20 minutes. Its great not having to share the jetty with hordes of holidaying kids.

I spent the day at a Fisheries Meeting. Christine had all the fun of doing some washing, reading, shopping for a few items and getting a hair cut. The evening and night was very cold and has us thinking about points further North.

Day 8 Saturday 5 June

The day was spent doing some odd jobs, repairing some damage to boat rollers sustained during the dramas of last Thursday, refuelling and restocking provisions. We plan to head off to the North end of Dirk Hartog tomorrow, a 100 mile round trip which will take us 5 days.

Day 9 Sunday 6 June

After getting a four day weather forecast, we abandoned the idea of going to Turtle Bay. Moderate SE winds were forecast, great for sailing but the thought of beating back into a South Easter for 50 miles (plus tack) to come home did not appeal. Also, the Hartog coastline has very few protected anchorages for South Easterly winds.

Instead, we decided to go to Cape Peron, setting off around 10:00. A stop on the Six Mile coral produced tea in the form of a couple of Black Snapper. We went in to Big Lagoon for an afternoon of lazing around.

Day 10 Monday 7 June

A very frustrating day! From Big Lagoon we sailed North, wasting time searching for the fabled Cape Leseuer coral. We haven't actually seen this coral for 20 years, but never quite give up totally. We gave up for the moment, heading instead for Broadhurst corals. Missing Broadhurst is almost impossible, but we managed, GPS readings and all. The water was so full of plankton that visibility was almost nil. I had one or two words to say about the situation.

Closer in to shore, near Cattle Wells, we passed across some very 'fishy' looking reef so we anchored up for a while. The first cast produced a decent black snapper, which took a large run as an oversized cod grabbed him and mangled his sides. I kept a couple of eating blacks and continued to get busted off by large fishing diving straight under rock ledges. A large pink was caught and released.

Keen to know just what sort of country I was in, I went over the side with a snorkel. It was scary. a couple of large cod, lots of smaller ones, numerous large baldchin and even a healthy population of coral trout. The place just teamed with fish. In places, you could barely see the bottom for black snapper. The pinks were hanging out on the sand. All this and less than a mile from the South Gregories camping area.

Further north at Gregories itself, I snorkelled again looking for crays. These were common in the old days, but there was no sign of them. I guess with the opening up of Peron National Park to camping, increased access as taken its toll.

Then came the job of finding somewhere to sleep. In this part of the world, the oceanic swell starts to be a problem. Landing on the beach was out of the question, with low rollers affecting most possible landing sites. The wind had gone to the South West, making things sloppy and uncomfortable. We chose one bay just south of Cape Peron and settled down. By 10:30, we were up and moving. With the tide lower and the wind in the South, the sound of surf breaking was a bit off putting. We anchored further out, safe but a rather rockin' rollin' night was spent.

A pretty but uncomfortable anchorage South of Cape Peron

Day 11 Tuesday 8 June

A much better day! We rounded Cape Peron and went ashore at Skippy Point for breakfast and ablutions. I find I am driven to at least step ashore first thing in the morning. It is becoming a ritual.

Sailing back around Peron, I put out a troll line, carefully selecting a small red minnow-like thing which I judged might bag us a tailor.

When the lure took off, my first thoughts were that I had picked right with a smallish fish that was not giving too much trouble. Then all this head shaking started and it powered off, demonstrating that it was capable of swimming much faster than our yacht. This was a silly move because it tired and we caught up with it eventually. A lovely Longtail Tuna around 10kg. After a photo, we managed to get the trebles out, made sure it was swimming well and watched it swim away. What a buzz!

A longtail tuna caught off Cape Peron

We sailed south, stopping to fish here and there. At one point, very close to where I had snorkelled for cray fish the previous day, we came across a very large tiger shark (3 to 4 metres). I am really surprised by the amount of reef and coral up here. A camping holiday with a dinghy would be great fun.

With the south westerly wind up, we headed for shore, spending the afternoon lazing around and lying on a beautiful beach in the sun to get warm. The temperature has been disappointing although the last few days have steadily improved. Some of the nights have got down to 10 degrees and it only gets to the low 20s by day.

While I type, Christine is creating a culinary delight:

  • snapper with a satay sauce
  • stir fried chinese vegetables
  • noodles in oyster sauce

A local fishing boat (looks like Dennis Hoult) has just come into the anchorage for the night.

Life's alright.

Day 12 Wednesday 9 June

Disaster has struck. Actually, this happened yesterday but the results only became obvious during the night. Late yesterday afternoon, I went to shore and into the sand hills for ablutions. I had just settled down, or should I say squatted down, when a cloud of sand flies descended on me. I had RID on my arms, legs, face and hands but not my more recently exposed area. I am now a mess of itchy ugly welts. Someone must pay! As on our last trip, Christine seems to be immune to these horrid creatures.

We had a terrific sail, with the winds in the right quarter for once and made good time down to some deep corals off Bar Flats. The fishing was excellent and we kept a couple of nice pink snapper, releasing many more.

From here we sailed towards Big Lagoon again, leaving us with an easy sail back to Denham in the morning. Along the way, I let out the trusty red lure again. It skipped and ducked along the surface, looking most uninviting but I let it go. Suddenly, off it went, with a solid fish on the end. I was puzzled because it didn't behave like most pelagic fish and showed little inclination to run wide of the boat. Instead, it engaged in head thumping and bucking tactics. I finally dragged in a 53cm pink snapper, complete with red lure. This is a definite first for me! Figuring that we had crossed some pretty hot ground, we back-tracked and marked the spot on the GPS. The snapper hit the lure on the surface in 8 metres of water.

Entering Big Lagoon, we noticed an unattended net strung out amongst the mangroves. I spoke to the Fisheries in Denham but they said that all officers were over at Steep Point. She said she would log it.

We are anchored up on the rock bar, which is producing a few black snapper as I occasionally throw in a line. The sandfly bites are really starting to get itchy.

Day 13 Thursday 10 June

It looks like a motor-sail back to Denham with only a light Southerly to greet us. It is

unseasonably cold again.

After an easy trip, we tied up alongside the jetty and I went to get the car while Christine logged our return to the Marine Rescue group. The boat was an absolute dog to get back on the trailer. We tried sinking the trailer, keeping it shallow but to no avail. Even with the help of two good samaritans, the boat insisted on tracking sideways and slipping off the rollers. When this happens, a roller post actually goes up into the keel housing and it requires the strength of 3 to lift the hull and re-launch it. Finally, after an hour, we managed to get it on. This represents a major problem and the frustrating thing is that it used to be so easy. Something has changed. Later, I realised that after the work we had done on the keel, it sits higher, whereas it used to protrude from the hull slightly. Maybe it acted as a guide for the rollers. By lowering the keel slightly before and after launching, this can be overcome. We are pinning all our hopes on this theory.

Back in camp at the rear of Dawson's, we showered, applied lotion to bites and collapsed in a heap. After 5 days at sea, our legs are a bit wobbly.

That night we went squidding at the jetty. It was a beautiful night, much warmer than most and deathly still. The water under the jetty was a crystal clear aquarium. We caught one squid and bagged another when a youth mistook our bucket for his. We told him but he let us keep it anyway. These will make a great Laksa tomorrow night.

Day 14 Friday June 11

A day of rest.

We did a bit of maintenance, cleaning and rest. I even got a haircut. We caught up with Des and Annette Thornton who are staying out at Monkey Mia. The day threatened rain, especially in the afternoon so we put up tarps and prepared for a downpour. Nothing of any consequence occurred however, which was a good thing considering the damage caused by the storms in Perth that day.

Day 15 Saturday June 12

We travelled to Carnarvon. The trip was without incident and we nearly got through our taped version of Dick Francis’s “Slay-Ride”. Only the final climax is left for the drive to Exmouth on Monday. The taped novels are much better than music because they tend to keep you alert rather than relaxed.

Once in Carnarvon, we set up in a caravan park along with Barry and Maxine Towler. They treated us to a magnificent meal of mullet, which they bought headed and gutted for $1 each. Incredible!

Day 16 Sunday June 13

Where did the day go? A sleep in, a bit of shopping. A good session on the e-mail and computer and a bit of a look around Carnarvon. What a tough life.


Day 17 June 14

We packed up early and set off for Exmouth. The countryside along the way was as green as we've ever seen it and the grasses stood nearly waist high in places. Few flowers are out yet but the colours will come in a month or so.

We stopped at the Kailis Prawning works at Learmonth but the Caravan Park displayed a sign saying no vacancies. The place was a graveyard full of wrecked caravans and even pieces of boats lay strewn around.

On to Exmouth and the scene was much the same. Both caravan parks are operating but it is clear that they have only just got up and going again. Many houses and buildings around town still are without a roof and some are awaiting demolition. The problem seems to be made more difficult because the older buildings were made with asbestos.

Cyclone reconstruction also seems to have affected prices. The caravan park is expensive while fuel is a ridiculous 91 to 93 cents per litre.

Accommodation is scarce and most of the sites were already booked. We had to put up with the back blocks, down amongst the rubble and wreckage of the cyclone damage.

Day 18 June 15

With the wind in the South, we abandoned plans to head off too far and settled for a sail North to Bundegi and around North West Cape.

We organised for an old chap next door to run me back out to the marina and headed off to launch the boat. The caravan park people were happy to let us leave the car with them so we left all our details with them as well as logging on with the local sea rescue. Happily, the problems with the boat trailer were resolved by lowering the keel a little before launching and we got away without incident.

We learnt a lot about sailing in the North from this one short trip. Most notable was the concept that tides are more important than winds up here. When planning a trip from now on, we have to take into account the tidal flow direction and strength as well as the tide's effect on water depth. As the day wore on, the wind died and we started up the engine. Motoring around Pt Murat we were puzzled by the speed reading of 10 knots. "There must be something wrong with the GPS! We never do 10 knots on motor." But when we turned around we found we HAD been scooting along. Into the tide we were managing 2.5 knots flat out. It was a very slow trip back.

Fishing was impossible in any depth of water. The tide was moving so fast the bottom rushed up to snag me almost every cast. I lost just about every sinker I had for one small unidentified emperor.

We tackled the problem of finding a decent anchorage. The Cruising Guide published by the Fremantle Sailing Club proved useless. The two anchorages suggested were subjected to both wave action and swell. We can put up with one or the other but not both. Finally, we decided to tuck in behind the Inner Bundegi Reef. This would provide protection from the swell and protection from the South Easterly wind at least during low tide. If the wind was up at high tide we would just have to suffer being bumped around but we would be safe.

The evening was a piece of magic. Low tide was set for 6:30pm and as the sun lowered we watched the reef emerge around us. We had calculated our depths right and had a comfortable metre below us. Small black tipped whaler sharks cruised the shallow sands so I tossed out a flick rod and soon hooked one. After a good tussle, it was released. I threw in again and was soon into another fish. This one fought harder and I expected a larger shark but I was shocked to see a magnificent spangled emperor come in.

It certainly gave a great fight on the light gear in such shallow water. With increased enthusiasm, I continued to fish, keeping another legal size spangled, releasing a number of undersized ones and getting busted off a few times. By the time the sun was fully down, the action was over. A local later told us that feeding over the shallows at sundown is known behaviour for the spangled emperor.

A spangled emperor from the shallows around Bundegi

If the evening was magic, the night was a nightmare. The Southerly came up at 8:00pm and increased in strength as the tide rose. We pitched and rolled and bumped all night long. It was a very long night.

Day 19 June 16

The morning was no better. If anything, the wind increased, making the rigging hum and creating a sea strewn with whitecaps. The marina was some 7.5 miles straight into the wind. We stayed at anchor.

We had breakfast then lay down to read. We got up to see how the wind was going and lay down to read. We had morning tea then lay down to read. The day wore on...

At 2:00pm, with the wind starting to moderate and the tide high enough to get over the reef, we escaped and headed back into the falling tide to the marina.

The boat proved to be back to its old self when retrieving with a slightly lowered keel. While manoeuvring the boat onto the trailer, Christine’s knicker elastic decided to spit the dummy. She shuffled and struggled along, until finally, in desperation, pulled the offending garment out through her shorts, tearing them up as she went. This is the sort of thing I have to put up with to get a good deckie.

A taxi delivered me back into town for the car and trailer while Christine secured rigging etc on the boat. We settled back into the caravan park with a long cold scotch and dry. Our first bad trip!

Day 20 June 17

Needing a day away from the boat, we planned a drive out to Cape Range National Park with the snorkelling gear and a picnic lunch.

First, we stopped in at the Gascoyne Development Centre to chat to Doug Bathgate. I met Doug through my work with Fisheries. We share a common experience because Doug was once in charge of Shark Bay Primary School, although he preceded me by 20 years. In fact, he was the first occupant of the house we lived in. Doug filled us in on the local needs when navigating and pointed out the need to take tides into account. He also gave us a couple of contacts at Kailis's prawning works so we can use them as a base for exploring the Southern parts of the gulf.

We thoroughly enjoyed the National Park. There are numerous camping spots, some with toilets and shade and others more Spartan. The water is certainly beautiful, although once again the tide and swell conspired to defeat us making the water too dirty and choppy for snorkelling. After rejecting many locations, we finally settled on a spot. The water was so warm! Although visibility was poor, I saw lots of big spangled emperor, trevally and bream. It's a lovely part of the world, with the beauty of the Ningaloo reef to the West and the rugged features of Cape Range rising to the East.

Day 20 June 18

I am writing sitting at anchor in a beautiful inlet suitably named Bay of Rest. It is actually the entrance to a mangrove creek that drains a large area South of the Learmonth Airport. The water is a glassy calm and we have protection from all points bar the North. Nearby is a ruined campsite with a wrecked caravan, lopsided Villa Nova and the skeletal remains of a shed. No doubt this is a legacy of Cyclone Vance. A short while ago I threw in a line, with little hope of catching anything in the fierce outgoing tide.

Remains of a holiday camp in Bay of Rest

Having ducked into the cabin to make us a coffee, I had to scramble to get the rod out of the holder as the line took off. I played a very large fish for some time without seeing it before the inevitable bust off. All good fun!

We sailed South from the Kailis Prawning works at Learmonth. Following up the contact given to us by Doug Bathgate, we arranged to launch the boat at the factory and leave the vehicle in their care. The Manageress greeted us with a smile (I had phoned the day before) and attended to our needs. The facility had suffered badly during the cyclone, losing most of the caravans and units that had housed factory workers. Finding employees and accommodation is now proving difficult but the caravan park is slowly getting back into operation. We looked hungrily at the 1kg bags of fresh prawns and decided to pick some up on our return.

Before launching, Christine rang Ron to wish him Happy Birthday. We were surprised to find that Young Ron was spending the weekend in Exmouth on a conference. Unfortunately we will miss him.

With little wind, we motor sailed South, following the coast. We checked out the Learmonth Jetty, long regarded as a premier shore fishing spot. We also anchored for a while over some very pretty corals and I caught a few Hussar and Black Snapper. We kept a few Hussar to use as Mud Crab bait, hoping to get the chance later to drop some pots.

All in all, a much better day.

Day 21 June 19

We didn't catch any mud crabs. In fact we only managed one blue manna crab but it was just about the biggest female I've ever seen so we cooked her up. This provided more than enough for a delicious crab and sweet corn soup for our lunch.

After breakfast, we went ashore to inspect the ruins of the camp. It was obviously a holiday camp, composed of 3 caravans and the Villa Nova unit. The destruction was amazing. We pottered about through the ruins, reading the story of many happy holidays amongst the fishing gear, cooking equipment, clothes and bedding. Feeling a bit like looters, we left things alone. The whole thing was rather sad.

We set sail for Point Lefroy, where Doug had suggested we would find good fishing. The wind was light so we shook out our usual reef in the main. What a mistake. Within minutes, the wind freshened and being into the rising tide, started creating huge waves. We took in the reef again, feeling rather proud of our sail handling. This has certainly improved with practice. Christine looks quite nimble as she gathers armfuls of flapping sail and brings everything to a point of ordered control. We find it best if I take the tiller in times of stress. Otherwise I tend to yell at her.

Once in to Point Lefroy, we began a game of avoid the corals. All movement required one of us to be posted on the bow, so heavy was the reef. It didn't produce much in the way of fish for us though. On the point was an other camp site, looking much the same as the previous one. Although we didn't go ashore, the destruction was clearly visible, with debris strewn across several adjoining bays. There even seemed to be an abandoned truck. I went for a couple of snorkels and came across many sheets of corrugated iron on the seabed.

From here we motor sailed (the wind has gone again) out to a feature on the chart marked as Schofield Shoal. This proved to be the home base for all the large black snapper. I lost count of the number I caught, all of them big by Shark Bay standards. I kept one for eating.

A comfortable sail back to our anchorage in the Bay of Rest completed a great day.

Day 22 June 20

We had a non-sailing day. This was not through lack of wind but rather the desire to simply stay put. We motored around a little, exploring the mangrove complex which shelters our anchorage. It proved to be a beautiful little waterway with a quite navigable channel down its centre, fringing mangroves and clusters of oyster covered rocks exposed at low tide.

With the tide well out, I smothered myself in insect repellent and ventured into the mangrove complex to look for crabs. Alas, the only sign I saw of mud crabs was one enormous claw, easily the biggest I've ever seen. It inspired me to press on. When crossing the mudflats back to the boat, I saw the pools were full of octopi so I grabbed 5 or 6 for bait. The rest of the day was spent trying to keep them contained within the bucket. Even after removing their heads, the tentacles continued to creep forth from the bucket. Christine failed to warm to them. However, she was a little placated by the bucket full of oysters I carried out to the boat for later.

Later, a dinghy appeared on the scene and a couple put out a string of crab pots. This was enough motivation for us to get out a couple of crap nets and hang them over the side. I think they did as well as we did. Perhaps we can buy some crabs at Kailis's.

We relaxed, read, slept and listened to the Eagles demolish Port Adelaide.

With the tide high, we nosed the boat right in against the mangroves and I snorkelled off in search of mullet. The water was rather soupy and although the fish were there they were hard to see at any distance. I speared two, enough for tea.

Fishing the mangroves in Bay of Rest

Tomorrow we head for "home", about 18 miles North. It won't be the easiest of trips with the tide and winds working against us at present.

Day 23 June 21

The weather forecast offered a Strong Wind Warning from Kuri Bay to Onslow, with fresh and gusty easterlies in our part of the World. Paradoxically, the wind at 6:30am was a dead calm and the sea glassed out. After breakfast, the situation was the same, so we decided to make a dash (on the motor) for Kailis's before the forecast winds arrived.

Outside the anchorage, there was a light Easterly blowing so we set the sails and enjoyed an easy run motor sailing at 6 to 7 knots. This is really moving for us!

Off the Learmonth Jetty and within sight of safety, the wind died totally, leaving us with a glassy calm, although an uncharacteristic swell remained. There must have been a huge swell running outside the Gulf for it to penetrate so far South. Needing to wait on the tide to get the boat on the trailer, I stopped over a likely looking lump on the echo sounder and proceeded to catch black snapper, spangled emperor and baldchin in considerable quantities, along with the usual bust offs and snags. Christine retired to the cabin to do her tax return from about 10 years ago. The heavies in Canberra are getting upset.

With the fish off the bite, we moved North to Kailis's to anchor off and wait for higher water. We were amazed to see the entire entrance to the launching area barred by breakers. "Should be better with a higher tide!" We anchored up to wait.

Two hours later and the tide had risen somewhat but so had the swell. If anything, the situation was worse. We waited some more, getting concerned about the prospect of seeing out a night anchored 200 metres from where we wanted to be.

Finally, at 2:30, we gave up and motored North to Exmouth, just over 10 miles away. We had a pleasant journey, the echo sounder displaying the most amazing reef systems along the way. This place is a small boat fishing paradise, with endless reef systems virtually anywhere you care to look. With a rising tide against us and absolutely no wind, the trip took 2 hours.

On reaching harbour, I had to get a taxi to run me down to Kailis's. The $27 fee stung a little but it was better than a night on the boat in open waters.

It was dark by the time we had the boat loaded, secured and the fish cleaned. One bonus was two lovely squid I caught by hand on the launching ramp. Actually, these had been caught by the chaps in the boat before us and they had discarded them, alive but rather lethargic. Half dead or fully awake they taste just as good. After picking up a few supplies at the local supermarket, we headed out of town to find a "P" stop for the night. Ironically, we stopped about 40kms out, rather close to the peaceful anchorage in the Bay of Rest where we had spent the last two nights. We collapsed!


Day 24 June 22

We drove to Onslow. Today we had to use the 2 jerry cans of fuel we brought from Perth. The price of fuel at Nannutarra was a disgusting 93.6 cents per litre. Even in Exmouth it was 91.5 c/l but we put this down to the need to rebuild business. We banked on it being cheaper in Onslow (which it was at 89.5)

Onslow does not show the same level of destruction from Cyclone Vance as Exmouth does but it certainly took a beating. Many trees are still stripped bare and some appear unwilling to recover. Still, like Exmouth, there is improvement everywhere you look. The place is prettier and more prosperous than when we were last here.

We set up in the caravan park for a couple of nights. The weather pattern is still describing fresh to strong Easterlies but the reality is different. Still, we will sit and get a bit of local knowledge before heading off into the briny.

The afternoon consisted of washing, shopping and checking out the fish cleaning tables. Whiting seem to be the order of the day with the retired set. I talked to one chap who had been out on a charter. He showed me his one black snapper and one mackerel. Both fish looked undersized to me. Thank goodness his charter only cost $40. He said he would have been better staying home and going crabbing with his mate. The previous day they had got 10 mud crabs at one of the local creeks. I got all excited.

Day 25 June 23

The Onslow Caravan Park is proving to be an absolute delight. The owners, Christine and Peter Siviour took over the lease a week before Cyclone Vance ruined the place. Peter had been farming in Jerramungup before arthritis forced a change of life. They seemed to have done wonders around the place in a short space of time.

Peter and Chris Siviour being interviewed by a GWN film crew for a special about cyclones.

For tonight, they organised a sausage sizzle for the Park patrons around the main barbecue. Since this is right next to our site, we had a grandstand view of proceedings. The turn out was quite large although once again we were in an age-group minority, being under 60. One chap brought a tub full of cleaned crabs. He has a contact with a trawler. We ate a couple of token sausages and pigged out on crab.

We got talking to Chris Siviour about the local school and the decision to bring her three children to Onlsow. She certainly has some concerns. Despite the assurances from the local Principal that all children are catered for, one has to wonder how well the oldest boy, a bright PEAC student, can be catered for. In the same way, I wonder how well an aboriginal Onslow local would be catered for at Marmion Primary School.

We arranged to have a look at her computer some time. She has not been able to use her e-mail or internet since coming North.

The yacht attracted a bit of interest from some of the guests. All in all, a good time was had by all.

Day 26 June 24

A Strong Wind Warning was issued for Barrow Island East, giving us fresh and gusty Easterlies. We listened in disbelief and got ready to set off later. Meanwhile, the wind did freshen a little but was still only moderate at best.

We spied a Zodiac coming ashore from a Spririt 28 which had anchored off shore the previous evening. We caught up with the couple who was looking even rougher than us. They were seeking a bit of shelter while they tried to refit their motor, having removed it for gear box repairs. This was apparently a bit of a saga and the third time they had removed and fitted the engine. We made sympathetic noises.

Off to Beadon Creek to launch and the wind had gone to a definite "Fresh". We put up the mast and the wind had wavered on Fresh to Strong. We waited, we read, we slept, we ate lunch (crabs again). The wind blew 15-20 knots and the sea remained studded with white caps. We made 2:00 a deadline. Even if we did get in the water by then, it would leave us with little time to make a suitable anchorage by nightfall.

As a diversion, we watched a couple wading their dinghy along the edge of Beadon Creek, inching their way towards the ramp. Either they had motor trouble or they liked mud. It turned out that the outboard was not pumping water. After a bit of fiddling around, they decided to give up and return to the caravan park. The man produced an amazing boat trailer which he had built himself. It was a marvel of engineering with the design copied from a folding golf buggy. The whole thing could fold up for storage (with the wheels removed) behind the front seat of a Landrover. This allowed them to tow a caravan, put their boat on the roof yet still have the use of a trailer for ease of launching.

Having come North from August through Meekatharra and Wiluna, they were rather annoyed that their first attempt to use the boat had failed. We made sympathetic noises.

Eventually, we gave up, relocated to the caravan park and drove off to Four Mile Creek for a spot of fishing.

We caught little, a couple of small flathead, a blowfish and a small javelin fish. The Augusta couple with the dead motor arrived and we had a pleasant chat about their past fishing around Onslow. Unfortunately, they were unable to find help for the motor in Onslow and were advised to go to Exmouth. We made more sympathetic noises.

Day 27 June 25

The day began in similar fashion to the last one. A Strong Wind Warning was issued for East of Onslow. Once again, the early morning was calm but this time we waited. We went and solved Chris Siviour's internet problems and by the time we were finished, the wind had arrived. Another night in a caravan park! At least this time it will be free, with Chris waiving park fees in return for our help on the computer.

While working in the office, a steady stream of people came in to extend their stay. It seems the magic of the place is getting to people and I can see why. We are in no hurry to push on. It's hard to say what the magic is. The place just has a comfortable feel to it and everyone is so friendly. The couple from Augusta extended for 2 days so I guess they will learn to get on without the boat motor.

Crossing the Ashburton River

We drove out to the Ashburton and Old Onslow for fishing and lunch. We caught very little, even less than the day before but we had a great day. The river is flowing well over the road crossing and everything is green and lush.

Day 28 June 26

With the weather forecast unchanged, we reluctantly made the decision to leave. It with regret that we do this, firstly because we have really enjoyed our stay in Onslow and secondly because we badly wanted to go to Serruier Island. Unfortunately, the gaps in the weather don’t occur until late afternoon and there are insufficient anchorages on this coast to allow us to “island hop”.

We left for Dampier, staying the night at a delightful spot called Miaree Pool on the Maitland River. Along the way, we travelled through some marvellous country, with rugged mountains, waist high green grass and glorious clusters of Sturt Peas. Instead of crossing successive dry creek beds, most water courses had at least a few pools in them and the rivers were all flowing well. One old chap I was talking to in Onslow said that the rivers were expected to flow right through the dry for only the second time in recorded history.

Miaree Pool on the Maitland River


Day 29 June 27

We arrived in Karratha and hit KMart and the plastic in a big way, buying some badly needed clothes and some more lures. All our other clothes look like what they are… fishing outfits. Christine was thrilled to find that she had dropped a full clothes size and had no trouble finding things which looked good. We are even ready to track down some scales soon.

We set up in the Dampier Caravan Park to wait on the wind. There was no Strong Wind Warning issued today but there should have been. It is 25 knots plus. The advantage that this area has is that the Dampier Archipelago is so extensive and complex that there is always shelter somewhere. Things will still have to moderate from the present. I gather that the weather pattern is quite normal for this time of year. Every time there is a high pressure system in the Bight, the Pilbara coast gets fresh Easterlies. Summer is calmer but you can’t breathe the air because of the heat. We will just have to wait for a real pig of a frontal system down South to break everything up.

A Yellow Throated Miner Bird feeding from a Sturt Pea, right next to our camp in the Dampier Caravan Park.

We explored the launching facilities and were suitably impressed. Best of all was at the Hampton Harbour Yacht Club. We approached them and were given a number of someone to arrange garaging of the car and trailer.

Meanwhile, it is not a bad place to be.

Day 30 June 28

It was windy today! The situation is becoming seriously depressing. We keep meeting people with small aluminium boats who are also becoming seriously depressed.

We went into Karratha to go to the Post Office and to locate a spring works to deal with a broken leaf on the boat trailer. We found a spring works and organised to get a pair of new springs fitted. This could not be done until Thursday, two days away.

We decided to spend some time waiting out the weather at Cleaverville Beach. This is a beautiful spot about 25km East of Karratha with free camping. We stopped for a while on our last trip and fell in love with the place. The area has been the scene of a running controversy over the last 18 months when the Roebourne Shire closed it to camping, citing public liability issues. After considerable lobbying from the "grey set", the Minister for Lands made the necessary arrangements for the Shire to allow camping without assuming responsibility. Happily for us, camping resumed about a month ago. Small fees will now be charged but the necessary administrative system won't be in place until next year. What a shame.

We decided to drive out to Cleaverville, leaving the boat in Dampier to check out conditions, particularly the 13kms of unsealed access road.

Along the way, we checked out some of the attractions of the Burrup Penninsula. Hearsons Cove is a local swimming beach and fishing location. It looked quite fishy so I started throwing a surface popper about in the hope of finding a lonely queenfish or trevally. On the second cast a wandering seagull spied my popper and executed a perfect dive bomb, impaling one webbed foot on the rear treble hook. He fought well but I got him in. He was foolish enough to bite me while I was saving his life. At this point I considered killing him but given that my previous attempts to kill seagulls have failed I contented myself with ripping the treble out forcefully and watching him fly away with a sort of sideways crabbing action.

I spied a couple fishing out on some rocks and the sight of the man struggling to land a fish which was intent on tangling the line in mangroves sent me bounding out towards them. By the time I arrived, it was clearly a bloody catfish so I lost interest, especially when they said that was the only action they had seen for two hours.

We explored a nearby rocky ravine, the site of some 500 aboriginal carvings called Petroglyphs. They depicted all manner of animals and tracks. Almost every rock carried a carving of some description.

The road to Cleaverville proved to be corrugated but passable. We found "Our Cove" from last time and I settled down to fish. I soon had 3 big yellowfin bream, more than enough for tea. The wind continued to blow unabated as we headed back to Dampier.

Stopping at the Tourist Centre on the way, we organised a tour of the Hamersly Iron facilities for the following morning for the princely sum of $5 each. Should prove educational. At least a tour coach is out of the wind.

Day 31 June 29

The tour of Hamersly Iron loading facilities was definitely worthwhile. We did the usual video and on and off the bus bit. We collected our guide book and little plastic bag of iron ore. We voted to change coaches when the PA system on the first one failed to work. We walked to the top of Queen's Lookout, an imposing summit on East Intercourse Island with an access road too steep for the coach and no turn around room. We clapped the tour lady at the end. A good time was had by all.

What the tour did give us was a much better understanding of the layout of the islands that make up the Dampier Archipelago. The view from Queen's Lookout was worth the whole experience.

The view across the road from the Dampier Caravan Park

After the tour, we headed down to the Town Beach to fish. After little result (1 bream), we moved to the marina groyne. This water looked very fishy but still produced only 3 bream. Looks like bream for tea again. Actually, satay bream and rice was very nice but a change of diet is called for.

Day 32 June 30

The end of the financial year is with us at last. This means that another tax return is now due. I must tell Christine.

We packed up and left the Dampier Caravan Park to drop the boat off at the spring works. The man estimated that it would take three or four hours to do the two hours work on the boat so we had some time to kill. We headed into Karratha to wander around and shop for a few basics. There is a limit to the window shopping available in Karratha although I was impressed with the Pilbara Art Gallery. It had 3 or 4 Pro Hart originals on sale ($3500 to $6500) and a lot of very good local artists.

Feeling very pleased with our diets, we decided to find some scales. The only pharmacy we found did not have any so we struck on the brilliant idea of trying out the ones in K-Mart. Unfortunately, they were all shrink wrapped. This had the effect of giving me a weight of 75kgs, which, although highly desirable, was an obvious lie. Passing a Retravision store, Christine insisted on going in. The man asked if we required assistance and Christine started talking about electronic bathroom scales. I tried to hide while the man showed her a terrific set priced at $128. The man used his enviable 85kg to demonstrate the equipment and Christine waited for him to give up and go away before trying them herself. She was pleased to find that she had lost 4 or 5 kgs so I had a go. I obviously made a mistake in removing my thongs as I left two very clear red-dirt footprints on the scales. We fled!

The two hour job on the boat trailer had not even started when we returned 5 hours later. We set up camp in the car park, made lunch, read books and waited. Eventually, the spring man started our job. The two hour job took about 45 minutes.

We left and got to our camping sport at Cleaverville just as the sun was setting. We just had time to duck down to the beach armed with hammers and screwdrivers to have an entree of rock oysters. More awaited us in the shape of a big mud crab sitting in a tidal pool saying "eat me". Mud crab for tea.

Day 33 July 1

Today was really windy. We thought the previous week was windy but today they upgraded the Strong Wind Warning from strong winds to gale force winds. And they were! At times, it was difficult to be outside. I can't believe this weather is caused by a high pressure system. In Perth, we are used to High giving good weather. Up here, they produce dry but very windy conditions. There is no end in sight.

We still had a good day. Christine fixed a number of electrical problems and installed some new facilities. I fished a couple of times for nothing more than a small whiting. I tramped around a mangrove on a fruitless search for more mud crabs. Thank God I didn't catch any bream today. We get to have chicken curry.

We now have neighbours, about 100 metres away. They look harmless but it never pays to get too close out here. I think we're turning feral.

Day 34 July 2

This morning, we decided to go for a walk, exploring the beaches and tracks to the North. The winds had dropped from Gale Force to just Strong with the usual warning in force from the NT border to Onslow. The news of a front coming through Perth is encouraging as it might mean the high pressure system will move. We rugged up and headed off.

The next cove along has a beautiful sandy beach. We were half way along this beach towards the next headland when I lost my hat in the wind. It cartwheeled along at a considerable rate, faster than I could run (even if I had tried). It didn't even deviate once, it simple hurtled down the beach back the way we had come. It covered the whole length of the beach, a long walk back to retrieve it. We accepted our fate and walked back the other way. Later, while passing the same cove, I saw a family of five exploring the beach. A young girl was spending her time chasing her hat down the beach. I sympathised.

We worked on the car, getting around to replacing a broken air conditioner belt. We haven’t really needed air conditioning yet with the temperature in the mid 20s but as we move North we will encounter low to mid 30s. Alas, we found that the reason for the broken belt was a seized idler pulley bearing so we will have to track one of these down.

I fished in our little cove, catching two bream, one very big. More bloody bream! They taste fine but are a little on the soft side sometimes. Still, they are excellent sport and better than catching nothing.

I spent another fruitless hour tramping through the mud in the mangroves looking for crabs. There are more footprints than crab holes so I think they are getting a bit of a hammering. I emerged from the mangroves quite a long way from the car. No sooner had I done so than the car started up and headed towards me. “Good girl Christine.” However, it turned out that she was looking after herself. A horde of sandflies had got into the car and attacked her. I bounded over to the car and got in. It was only then she owned up. The trouble was, the car was still full of the creatures so I got done all over again.

Day 35 July 4

Its easy to tell we are on holidays. We just lost a day somewhere. I tried to work it out but I think we’ve had the date one day wrong for weeks. That sort of thing happens at our age. Today is therefore correction day.

Everything else about the day was bad. My sandfly bites from yesterday are starting to get bad. Christine has little red spots all over her but no itching. I have ugly yellow lumps and incredible itching. It’s not fair!

We went to set the computer up and I connected the 240Volt inverter the wrong way. It doesn’t want to work anymore. We think we’ve wrecked the television while trying to improve it. The wind is still blowing. We can’t even catch a bream, besides, we don’t really like the taste of them anymore.

We will go back to Dampier tomorrow.

Day 38 July 5

We left Cleaverville this morning, with the weather looking great. It is still blowing a little, but the weather down South has turned foul, a sure sign that things will pick up for us. The huge high pressure system has finally moved on.

We returned to the Dampier Caravan Park to recharge the batteries and get supplies before setting off sailing tomorrow. Along the way, we explored the light industrial area in search of a place to get a bearing to replace the seized one in the air conditioning system. We tried Karratha Motors and they suggested they may have a second hand one on a wreck down the back. The mechanic suggested a cheaper way by going around the corner to a bearing supplier. This was successful and we were thrilled when it only cost $10. Back to Karratha Motors and we got them to fit the bearing into the pulley for another $10. We got out of it very well.

On returning to the park we found that some people we met before had also returned with the fine weather. Randall and Shirley had left their boat (a smallish aluminium) and gone off to tour Karijini National Park while the wind blew. We spent an evening going over charts and reading Randall's fishing magazine collection for likely spots to try. A bit of wine was consumed too. We enjoyed their company. Randall is a fireman in Northam so we had a bit in common and were able to join in with making jokes about all the holidays that firemen get.

Day 39 July 6

It has finally happened! We got out into the Dampier Archipelago. On the chart it looks huge and daunting. In practice, it shrinks and is remarkably easy to navigate around. Distances in Shark Bay or Exmouth Gulf are such that the GPS is an essential device and compass navigation the norm. Out here, you just look at the chart and navigate by turning corners around all the islands. They are everywhere and provide plenty of protection.

The worst part was leaving Dampier Port. There are channel markers, buoys, boats, small ships, tug boats, huge ships and more to contend with. At one point we had to cross a tug boat wake. These would be hazardous to most vessels under 10 metres and stood higher than the boat and broke.

We had organised a rendezvous with Randall and Shirley on the Southern end of West Lewis Island where the fishing prospects looked likely. They weren't though. Randall caught a mackerel and a couple of small fish while we caught nothing.

We left them after lunch and sailed of to the Southern Shore of Enderby Island. As we rounded a small rocky headland to anchor up, the whole cliff came alive with small wallabies. I think these are called Agile Rock Wallabies and they certainly looked the part. Only slightly bigger than a Quokka with rather long forearms, they looked like rats crawling all over the cliff face.

Here we did manage to catch a variety of small reef species, including a couple of glorious coral cod. These have the spectacular colours of coral trout but are more vivid. We deemed them too pretty to eat but later regretted it when we had not caught anything else for tea.

With the wind in the North West and the forecast for North East, we selected one of the many pretty coves along Enderby and settled for the night. The sea glassed out and we enjoyed a perfect evening. Then the wind went to the South and strengthened, producing an uncomfortable choppy anchorage. We considered ringing the met. bureau to complain but the phone lines were probably jammed anyway. They just can't get it right. We rolled and bumped all night getting very little sleep.

Day 40 July 7

With the sunrise, the wind eased and blew lightly from the South West for the rest of the morning. This didn't please us too much because our sail plan had us heading North East, passing between Enderby and West Lewis Island to the Malus Islands. This meant a boring slow following breeze. Still, it beats Strong Wind Warnings.

We sailed through literally miles of seas studded with huge schools of feeding fish. There were mackerel tuna, longtail tuna and doggie mackerel. The water was full of bait fish and they would turn the sea white as they fled the predators. None of these fish resembled any of my lures. We trolled through so many schools of feeding fish its a wonder we didn't jag any with the lures.

The only success we had was a black tip whaler shark which took a shine to a Sea Hag lure. It was great fun to catch but was rather troublesome when it came to getting the treble hooks out of its snapping mouth. It retaliated by biting off one treble, rendering the lure useless.

We sailed North of West Lewis and Eastwards to Malus. Most of the beautiful coves we passed along the way had beach shacks hugging their shores. I was surprised to find that squatters are permitted on the island with CALM approval. There are 32 approved shacks at present and each one must conform to some fairly strict guidelines. Most of them looked idyllic and in some of the better locations there were clusters of 4 or 5 shacks making a little village. We anchored up in one such cove for lunch and found we had an audience as several families had their lunch out on the verandah.

With lunch over, we found that a fresh Westerley had sprung up so we used it to sail around the Eastern tip of Malus Island to our target night anchorage. Called Marney Bay, we selected it on the advice of the Cruising Guide. This had let us down badly in Exmouth and it did so again. Battling the sails in a fresh breeze is no fun when you find that your anchorage is subject to a long swell and cuts the chop from heavy to medium at best. We had imagined a peaceful haven with crystal clear sands and lovely fringing coral. A party of grass skirted girls and swaying coconut palms would have helped.

We consulted the chart and braced ourselves for the beat back into the now screaming Westerly. Christine picked out a possible spot, giving protection against all bar a South West blow. We got wet! We moved a few things around inside the cabin! We were never in danger but we were very glad to reach our new haven. After a bit of moving around, we settled for the night, leaving insufficient depth for the predicted tide fall but assuming the wind would ease and allow us to move out later that night. For once we were right and we got a good night's sleep.

Day 41 July 8

The wind did what it was supposed to do today. It blew a fresh Easterly but we hugged the West coast of West Lewis so the seas were quite calm. We sailed well. We are certainly learning to get the most out of the sails. I actually feel as though I am in charge of them rather than the other way around.

We cruised, we snorkelled, we fished and caught very little.

A beautiful inlet on the South West corner of West Lewis Island provided us with a lovely calm anchorage for the night.

Day 42 July 9

The day started with a lazy morning, waiting for the howling Easterly to ease. After a long lie in, breakfast and a long read, I began fishing. What else? I was actually encouraged by the local radio fishing identity saying that there were a lot of big squid about a present.

I spent a fair bit of time catching small gardies for bait and putting out an oil slick using tinned sardines. After a while, a couple of obedient squid came alongside and I hooked one on the squid jig. I actually thought I was snagged on a big orange coral. This thing was huge. It squirted ink all over the side of the boat and took up most of a plastic bucket. We covered the bucket with a plastic bag and waited for the monster to die. We were actually a little afraid of it because it made snorting noises and moved the bucket around a bit.

Once cleaned, the squid proved big enough to provide us with a couple of good meals out of the helmet and all the tentacles for bait.

Later, I took to throwing lures around. Lure tossing is a boring occupation! I never seem to catch anything. I kept changing lures and persisting. Eventually, I tried a medium sized Nilsmaster blue thing that the boys had given me for my birthday. A trevally buzzed it and I got enthusiastic. A couple of casts later and a mackerel hit it on the surface with a crash. This represents more fish than we have had for a while. Another mackerel and a coral cod later (both released) and I became a fan of lure fishing. Its a real thrill to watch the fish chase, nose the lure then grab and run.

By now the wind had eased a little so we set sail towards home. We left some options open to anchor up on the Southern end of East Lewis Island if the sea proved too much but we ended up going all the way home.

We checked with Michelle at the Dampier Caravan Park but there were no vacancies at all. With night rapidly falling, we were facing having to drive to Karratha to one of the caravan parks. We showered at the Dampier soccer oval. got a few supplies at the supermarket and refuelled the car. The girls at the garage suggested Henderson's Cove as a spot to "squat". We tried it and were astonished to find a dozen assorted caravans, buses and camper vans filling the parking area.

We collapsed exhausted.

Day 43 July 10

Today was a maintenance day. We moved back into Dampier Caravan Park in the morning to recharge the batteries. We have grown to love this place. With only 16 sites and a small area for camping it is very small. The rules permit a maximum stay of 3 consecutive nights. This will be our eighth night. The place is friendly and quaint.

The “Red Dog” memorial in Dampier

I replenished my fishing supplies. I can't believe how much gear I have left wrapped around bits of rock and coral. It is very frustrating. Part of the blame for this lies with the yacht itself. In a breeze, it swings at anchor to a much greater extent than Tiger Tim. This makes it very hard to keep control over fishing lines and they snag easily. Where possible, it seems best to anchor fore and aft to stop the swing.

We cleaned the boat, inside and out. Getting the squid ink off the hull took a bit of elbow grease. I had a go at fitting the new air conditioning pulley and belt but was frustrated to find that the belt Repco sold us was the wrong size. By the time we discovered this, they were 15 minutes off closing and tomorrow is Sunday. On the phone, they said we could exchange it in Port Hedland. This air conditioning thing is becoming a major issue.

Tomorrow, we will begin the long journey to Broome to catch up with the Blackmans. We will probably be back.

Day 44 July 11

Before committing ourselves to any clear plans, I rang Derek Blackman in Broome to find out his movements. It turned out he is due to go out in the field for 10 days on July 19 so we have this week and the weekend to catch up.

This made up our mind to leave the Pilbara and head North. We didn't get too far, spending the morning looking at Point Sampson. It has been over 20 years since we have been out there and things have certainly changed. The last time, the jetty still stood, surrounded by derelict sheds and storage buildings. These now form the basis of a tavern and caravan park, set in quite picturesque gardens. An attractive village of holiday houses has sprung up and the place has a friendly feel to it. The launching facilities are serviceable and the offshore islands look interesting enough. We decided to drop in on the way back for a sail.

Roebourne too has changed and has lost some of its scary look. It has lost a lot of its reputation as a town out of control and the local aboriginal community has made quite a name for itself by bringing a lot of its young people back to an understanding of traditional life.

We drove on, checking out a couple of possible stops listed in our "Free Camping Guide to WA". Finally, we stopped at the Yule River in a large rest area. There are a dozen or so other vans and campers, some of them set up for extended stays in a cool and restful spot. The river is flowing and we went down for a rather unique swim. Here the river flows in 10 or more channels, each one less than a metre deep. The flow is quite strong so the idea is to stretch out, relax and let the warm water gently massage. The combined flow of all these channels is probably quite considerable.

The Yule River camping area – great swimming

We set up for a night's stay here, leaving us with only 50kms or so to Port Hedland tomorrow. There we will track down another airconditioning belt. Today was the first time we really missed it with the temperature creeping up into the high 20s.

Day 45 July 12

The saga of the airconditioning continues. We measured the required size with a piece of string, puzzled that it seemed to be very similar to the belt that we can't fit. Armed with our bits and pieces, we headed off to Repco in Port Hedland. They had nothing bigger and a check on all the details suggested we had the correct belt. We decided to try again. Perhaps we were missing something.

We picked up a few supplies in South Hedland. The town has been the subject of a multi-million dollar beautification project in an attempt to attract and keep more families to the town. It certainly looks neater and cleaner than the last time we saw it. Most of the towns we pass through look better this time. It could be a result of the very heavy rainfall during the summer and the really part of winter. All the rivers and creeks we come across are still flowing and all the grass around is green rather than its usual dry brown.

During the drive out, we missed the airconditioner. It was fine with the window down but it gets a bit annoying after a while.

We stopped for lunch at the De Grey River bridge. This river is enormous and the camping areas on the banks are very pretty. Unfortunately, a lot of other people agreed with us and it was very crowded. We contented ourselves with lunch, a short nap and then pushed on. Our guide book lists a spot near Pardoo Roadhouse called Afghan Well so we aimed for that.

The Afghan Well was unoccupied and quite pretty, except for a bit of rubbish left by some uncaring campers. A couple of date palms surrounding a small oasis marked it as a spot frequented by the early Afghan camel drivers who used to plant date seeds at their camp sites. We settled for the night.

After once again failing to discover the secret of fitting the airconditioning belt, we decided to give up and have one fitted in Broome. Let it be someone else's problem.

Day 46 July 14


We arrived in Broome today. Our first task was to track Derek Blackman down. This we did, finding him at work in the Fisheries Office. He arranged to pop home for lunch and brilliantly organised our life in Broome.

Derek has a lovely big house in the Cable Beach Estate. Although it is leased to the Government Housing Authority, it is actually on the market for $275000. Seeing as it has been advertised for the four years he has rented it there doesn't seem to be much panic about it being sold from underneath him. With a spare bedroom available and room to park the yacht, we jumped at the invitation to stay with Derek.

We were very keen to catch up with both Renee and Travis. Travis is at sea on a fishing boat and due home on Sunday. Renee is staying out on a station near Camballin with her boyfriend and due home tomorrow. Sadly, Renee is battling a leukaemia type disease at present. She is administering her own chemotherapy program and is taking a course of pain killing drugs. Derek seems to be handling things well on the outside but the strain is obvious.

We spent the afternoon organising ourselves for the strange experience of living inside a house. Showers in the same building! Cooking in a kitchen big enough for more than one person. Being able to stand up and walk around. Amazing!

Getting to know Rastus

We also got to know Rastus. Technically, Rastus belongs to Travis but he is at sea so much the onus of care has fallen on Derek. He is certainly no ordinary dog. He is a 100% American Pit Bull Terrier. Yes folks! The killer dog. Actually, a bigger sook it is hard to imagine. There is no way that Rastus could or would ever harm a human. I have grave doubts that he would even defend Derek or Travis if they were threatened. The only interest he takes in strangers is to demand attention.

Other dogs, however, are treated differently. They are killed! This is an unfortunate and nasty habit but it is what the animal has been bred for. When Derek takes him to the beach, he has to go miles down Cable Beach to find a quiet spot. His exploits have already cost Travis a $600 fine and vet costs for one severely injured and one dog put down as a result of injuries. The trouble is, Rastus is a lovely dog and truly lovable.

With Derek home from work, we spent a fantastic few hours catching up. Derek produced photos showing some of the incredible things he has seen and, of course, some terrific barramundi catches. His job is mainly involved with monitoring the cultured pearl industry and he spends a lot of time at sea and diving on pearl rafts. He loves Broome and still loves his diving and fishing.

Around 8pm, we were thrilled when Renee and her boyfriend Link arrived. After many huggies and kisses, we settled down to catching up on old times. Renee also had her dog, Keshy, a small white poodle thing. Rastus was promptly put outside but managed to push open the door. Only Renee's quick grab saved Keshy from becoming a poodle puddle as Rastus made a lunge for the head. An interesting animal.

Reneee announced her intention to go back to the station tomorrow, having only come in to stock up on her drug supply. Derek seemed a bit put out by this but Renee seemed determined. She certainly looked great and I understand that things are going quite well for her at the moment.

Day 47 July 15

We spent the day wandering around Broome, window shopping in China Town and generally relaxing. Broome has grown considerably since we were here in 1990. At that time, it had a population of around 5000. This has now swelled to 13000 with up to 30000 during peak tourist times. The most obvious sign of this growth is in the traffic. The road system is largely unchanged from our last visit but the influx of people has pressured this to a point where things just don't work. We have now learnt to always plan to turn left onto a major road. Turning right is almost impossible.

China Town has really come alive as a tourist centre. Cafe's and T-Shirt shops abound and the whole place has an atmosphere reminiscent of Bali. I liked it.

Derek and Sunday paper

We dropped in to the Broome Caravan Park and left a note for Alex and Gaye Walker to say we were in town. Alex rang us later and we made arrangements to meet tomorrow in town for coffee.

Looking up a likely looking mechanic, we asked to have an air-conditioning belt fitted, explaining the problems we had had. "No problem! We can do it on the spot. Yes we will have the correct belt." After going through the same process as us, the mechanic came up with the following:

1. You have the wrong belt.

2. It doesn't fit.

3. We don't have the correct belt.

4. We can order one from Perth.

5. It will be here tomorrow morning at 10am.

None of this was really news to us so we looked on and nodded smugly. We told you so. We organised to come back tomorrow morning.


Renee left in the afternoon to head back to Mudjeree Station. With luck, we will see her again when we drop back into Broome on the way home.

Derek headed out after tea to meet up with his mysterious "lady friend". Christine was beside herself with curiosity but refrained from following him.

Day 48 July 16

This morning, we headed off to meet Alex and Gaye in China Town. We chose a lovely little outdoor cafe in a shady laneway. This proved to be a mistake after a while when the presence of sandflies was noted and felt. It seems you can't even go shopping up here without insect repellent.

Alex is doing well for himself with relief teaching. In fact, he is in such demand that he sometimes has to dig his heels in and refuse work to get a bit of a break. He has been continually asked to take up full time work by both the schools and the Department, such is the shortage of teachers up here.

This position is also reflected in the local media, with both the press and radio featuring articles about the shortage of staff. The Government must bear responsibility for this major turn around. Broome used to be an impossible place to get appointed to but the current system has seen it removed from the list of difficult to staff schools and the incentives reduced. The additional costs of living here and the lack of follow up advantages after serving a stint here simply make it too expensive for many people to accept appointment.

Denise Walker has a great job at the local TAFE running the Art Department. Her art work was in evidence at a number of coffee shops around town and later we came across some of work hanging on the walls at one of Derek's friends.

The Walkers seemed happy with their decision to go on the road and will head South to Mandurah and later Denmark for the Summer.

Having left Alex and Gaye, we checked with the mechanic about the Air-con belt. "No it hasn't come in yet. It will be on the 3pm plane!" The saga continues.

The mechanic's yard looked to be in total chaos. A "bash" type car rally had arrived in Broome, it being the turn-around point for the "bash" back to Byron Bay. Fantastically coloured and decorated cars were in profusion, with gear boxes out, suspensions being repaired and a lot of energy being expended. We wondered how important our air-con belt was in the scheme of things.

In the evening, we drove down to Cable Beach with Derek and his lady friend, Elly. She had a friend in the rally, and with all the rally cars now assembled on the beach we caught up with him. These people are just a little bit mad. They have come through the Kimberleys via the sealed road but will leave tomorrow to cross the Gibb River Road. Under normal circumstances this would test the cars but they plan to travel from Broome to Kununurra in 1 day. This is crazy. We will look for bits of their cars during our two week crossing of the same road.

We spent a delightful evening on the beach.


Christine captured a typical tourist shot of the camels crossing in front of the setting sun which is better than most of those you see on tourist brochures. Our plan was to head back to Derek's and order in Pizza for tea but we couldn't get the one Pizza delivery outlet to answer. With all the tourists and rally people in town the phone was constantly engaged. Chris and I whipped up a rice meal.

Day 49 July 17

This is it. Air conditioning day. The belt arrived. It was the correct one. It works. All for $35 and about 12 hours of sitting around waiting, visiting car part stores, working on the engine. Easy in the end!

We spent the day working at moving things from the boat to the car and vice versa. It is astonishing just how much stuff we have. The challenge is to get the car as compact as possible without making packing too exacting a task. The solar panel is now sitting on the top of the car but is easy to slide off and place in a sun exposed location.

While restocking our supplies, we were appalled to discover that 4 litre casks of wine can't be purchased in Broome. This is part of an accord throughout the Kimberley and the other towns are the same. The only town which sells 4 litre casks is Kununurra and then not on Wednesdays or Thursdays. This means that when we see large groups of drunken locals lying in a park somewhere they have at least been drinking higher quality 2 litre cask wine. We forked out the extra for 2 litre casks and decided to drink half the amount so the system is working.

Christine also decided to buy a mosquito net capable of fitting over a beach umbrella and the table. This has a high priority for her now because she has reacted badly to the sandfly bites we got at the coffee shop in China Town. Of course, I have my bites too but by now it is just a way of life. I made a determined effort to show sympathy but I may have failed.

Derek showed me how to play stick with Rastus today. No ordinary stick for him He uses a metre long piece of pine about 70mm round. He grabs it and attempts to destroy it. It is awesome to watch.

In the evening, we had a barbecue at Derek's with Elly and her neighbour Sonja and boyfriend Tony. Tony is the Director of the Kimberley Development Council and was a very interesting person to talk to.

Day 50 July 18

The day was spent tidying up the last of the packing and organisation for the next phase of the trip. Having Derek's place as a base to work from has proven to be a tremendous asset. I'm not sure how we would have managed without it.

The afternoon was marred by the Dockers lucky win over the Eagles. What a tragedy. I was tempted to cut our trip short and fly back to Perth to give Mick a piece of my mind.

In the evening, we went down to the Cable Beach Resort to join in with the regular Sunday night "Mix and Mingles" tennis. It was a low key affair with some excellent tennis, very much along the lines we played at Wyalkatchem. This was our first tennis for a while and both of us started to get rather sore. The climate also proved interesting with sweat control in the humidity quite a problem.

After tennis, we enjoyed a glorious roast dinner at Elly's place. The social life in Broome has been full on and we need to move on to relax and dry out.

Day 51 July 19

Happy Birthday Derek! We phoned him early to wish him all the best for his 18th.

Today we left Broome bound for the Kimberley wilderness and Derek Blackman prepared to head to sea for 10 days. Travis had not made an appearance. Derek was able to check on his boats whereabouts and they were still fishing. It seems we will have to rely on catching him on our return.

Our first stop was to be Telegraph Pool on the Fitzroy River. We located the track with out trouble and proceeded to crawl our way across a very poor track. At one point, we struck an appalling stretch of corrugated track and it was impossible to find a comfortable speed. As Christine got out at the third gate to let us through, she noticed the last dribble of water flowing from our water container. The rough road had shaken the tap out.

We back tracked and were lucky to find the missing tap. It still meant finding some drinkable water so we had to drive back to the highway and on to the Willare Bridge Roadhouse. There, they offered us some water, which although rather salty, we accepted. We went down to the river for lunch and after tasting the clear fast flowing river water, filled up with that instead. In fact, it is the nicest water we have had in the North.

We had to cross the back track again, this time with a modification to the tap to make it more secure and selected a grassy piece of river bank to set up camp. After a short stint of pointless lure casting, we went off for a little lie down in the tent.

The next thing I knew it was 5:15 and starting to get dark (the sun sets early this far East). We had to scramble a bit to finish off setting up camp and getting organised. With nighttime came the insects, mozzies, sandflies, moths, etc. Thousands of them, The mozzie net was useless. They simply materialised through the netting. Fortunately, the "Bushman" repellant held everything at bay and we had a pleasant evening.

Day 52 July 20

Today was rather hot and still. This was made worse by the fact that only a short walk away is a beautiful fresh water river which looks very inviting. It is rather like the Great Grey Greasy Limpopo River all set about with fever trees for its houses those nasty bitey crocodiles. We didn't see any during the day although we saw some tracks leading out of the river a couple of hundred metres downstream. Straight in front of our camp, we found the skeleton of a small croc, clearly a freshwater one.

The start to a lovely evening on the Fitzroy River

At one stage, during a long walk along the river, we got hot enough to have dip in a small waterhole some distance from the main river and small enough for us to check out its contents first. It was heavenly.

The barramundi fishing has taken over from fitting air-conditioning belts as the main waste of time. I tossed lures of all descriptions. I stalked the banks. I tried to catch small fish for live bait without success. Just to annoy me, someone left the head of a rather large barra nearby.

We heard some news on the radio today which made us revise our immediate plans. Grading of the Gibb River Road has commenced so we will travel the long way around on the sealed road to Kununurra and come back through the Gibb. With the grading expected to take 3 weeks, the delay will mean we get to have a better crossing.

Just near sunset, a rather large croc appeared and started thrashing around in the water, putting to rest any doubts we had about the safety issues. As I tossed a lure around in the fading light, a tiny little freshwater croc eased over and kept chasing my lure around. I kept it well out of its way, having no desire to remove the trebles from even a tiny crocs jaws.

Tonight, we have neighbours, a Victorian couple who towed a huge caravan across the horror track. It took them an hour and a half to cross the 15 or so kms from the main road. Its a nice spot but not worth that.


Day 53 July 21

We left Telegraph Pool for Derby, the lack of fish being a factor in deciding to leave.

Derby is very pretty, despite being on a unimpressive tidal inlet and surrounded by mud flats. One peculiar feature is the lack of a distinct CBD. The various shops and utilities are spread over quite a large area which must annoy the locals no end.

On checking with the caravan park, we were surprised to find that there was almost no space available. Luckily, our needs were small so we grabbed the last available space. Derby is overflowing, as is the entire Kimberley region. Even the dreaded Gibb River Road is experiencing 300 vehicles a day. We set up next to a solitary one man tent marking the place of a backpacker and set about relaxing. The afternoon siesta is becoming a habit.

Later, the lone backpacker appeared and crawled into his hovel. Christine's mothering instincts were activated and she invited him to dinner. He (Neil) turned out to be a Brit (with obvious West Indian heritage) and excellent company. He is awaiting some money to be credited to his account and currently has $1.20 in the EFTPOS. He appeared to really enjoy our meal of mullet, tomato and rice.

Day 54 July 22

After breakfast, we chatted for a while with some neighbours. They were full of enthusiasm for a air charter they had been on to the horizontal waterfall and Cape Leveque. It sounded fantastic, especially the prospect of landing at Cape Leveque for a meal of Red Emperor and all for a very reasonable $150 a head. We decided to give the plastic a bit of a bash and sign up.

We were waiting when the booking office opened at 7:30. Unfortunately, there was nothing available until tomorrow, unless we went on separate flights. We discussed the insurance adavantages of this but decided to wait.

The rest of the day consisted of reading and relaxing. We seem to do a lot of this. We did go on a couple of walks and spent quite a lot of time at the local library. We have found that a visit to the library in small towns is well worth while. We read four day's worth of papers in air conditioned comfort. Luxury!

We watched the park clear and fill up again. The stream of caravans, camper, buses and trailers is endless. Up this way, there a few more young people, but the average age is still well and truly 60+. In fact, just sitting in a caravan park watching the passing parade is quite a spectator sport.

Day 55 July 23

We packed up camp and organised the car to await pickup for our air tour. We were not due to be picked up until 10:30 so we had time to fuel up, re-provision and even go and pay my Driver's Licence. We had just discovered it was due on July 7th and that I had done the lion's share of the driving without one. It's nice to be legal again.

Another couple joined us to sit and wait and when the bus arrived it contained a fifth passenger. This actually meant the plane was full, it being a six seater. The Cessna company has done a great job of fitting size seats into such a small space. It was quite comical to see how everyone squeezed in.

The first part of the flight took us over the Wyndham Range and North to Talbot Bay. Seeing the rugged mountain ranges and sheers cliffs was a highlight. The country looked totally inaccessible in places and I looked longingly at the many beautiful rivers with long clear pools full of lovely barramundi so out of reach below us. We passed over several fires, one burning on an enormous front at least 50kms long. In the Kimberleys, no matter where you are, you can always see a fire burning somewhere. It is just a way of life.

We crossed the coast at Talbot Bay, descended to 1500 ft and did several large loops around the Horizontal Waterfall. This is an impressive feature where an immense tidal flow has to pass through a narrow break in the rocks, creating a huge waterfall effect. It is best viewed from above; hence the name.

From there we flew West, crossing Koolan and Cockatoo Islands. Iron Ore mining has officially ceased on both islands but a company has recently set up on Cockatoo and is working deposits and tailings abandoned by BHP. Cockatoo is now a holiday resort, although at $400 a night it is a little too rich for our tastes. Nearby, three yachts cruised towards Talbot Bay. I was so envious! Having seen the Buccaneer Archipelago from the air I am determined to sail it one day. I think we need a bigger yacht though.


Flying in to Cape Leveque for lunch, we passed over the same waters we had fished with Ron Pearson on our last trip. The whirlpools and tidal eddies were all clearly visible and weakened some of my resolve to one day sail these waters. The landing at the Cape was excellent given that the strip resembled part of the Gibb River road at its worst.

We had a lovely swim before lunch and had time to get to know our fellow travellers. Actually, there was quite a little community in the restaurant with 8 planes being at the strip when we landed. Lunch itself was by far the best fish we have ever tasted; fresh caught barramundi in an incredible butter based sauce. What's more, we had chips, a rare luxury for us. Given the isolation of the place, the meal was absolutely superb.

The third leg of the flight was interesting though unremarkable. Following the Eastern coastline of Dampier land down to Derby, the main points of interest were found among the mud flats and branchings of the tidal channels. The tide was at its lowest and the shallow water extended many kilometres from land, especially near the mouth of the Fitzroy River.

By the time we got back to the car, we were pretty tired. Fortunately, we had only committed ourselves to a drive of 35kms to a likely looking campsite, and since it was around 4:00pm by the time we left Derby it was a good thing.

We duly found the May River Crossing and located a suitable campsite. Warning signs talked of saltwater crocs so we avoided the campsites right on the river's edge. Others didn't but they looked a bit thick anyway. We spent a short time at the river, casting about. Once again, the only thing which showed any interest in my lure was a small crocodile which seemed determined to catch it. I managed to keep it away from him though.

At night, the insects moved in a big way. Although the repellent was effective against the mozzies, the moths and other creatures simply became unbearable. Feeling dead beat, we went in for a lie down at 7:00 and stayed that way until dawn.

Windjana Gorge

Day 56 July 24

We were up early and off to Windjana Gorge, at least that was the plan. About 80kms down the Gibb River Road, we came to a small rest area at the Lennard River Crossing. It was so pretty, with a beautiful long deep pool and no saltwater crocs, that we decided to stay.

For most of the day, we had the place to ourselves, except for midday when 3 or 4 cars arrived for lunch. Later on, we were joined by a few others for the night.

The water was full of small perch and grunter, providing a ready source of live bait. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be anything to eat the live bait or the lures. However, we did catch some cherrabin, a type of freshwater prawn. We managed to get five, three of which were marron size and the other two smaller but like big king prawns. Checking the drop nets kept us busy for the day, with, of course, the afternoon siesta.

Our campsite on the Lennard River

Night time here was a different story to the May River. There were no insects. My theory is that there are so many perch in the river that all water dependant insects get eaten. We made friends with our neighbours, whose names I have already forgotten and had an enjoyable chat. Since being in the Kimberleys, we have found everyone far more sociable and keen to chat. We are starting to catch up with people we have met before and greet each other like long lost pals. Remembering names is a bit of a problem. We remember people as the Derby people or the Fitzroy people. Christine managed to maintain her incredible run of luck with the Yahtzee, much to my disgust.

The cherrabin were excellent, done in a garlic, chilli and ginger thing that Christine invented. We must catch some more. Next time, I get to use some as live bait. They are reputed to be fool proof for barramundi.

Day 57 July 25

This morning, we debated whether to move on or stay. We decided to fish and chase cherrabin for a while before deciding. After a fruitless effort with the nets on the other side of the river, we agreed that fate had made the decision for us and we began to pack.

It was only a short drive of 20kms down to Windjana Gorge. The approach to the gorge is spectacular, probably more so than the gorge itself. we have seen a grat many gorges in our travels and we tend to be a bit ho-hum about them. This one is rather special, it being a deep crevice in the sheer edge of a plateau. The plateau is an ancient Devonian coral reef and contains many fossils and remnant coral structures. The Lennard River has formed the gorge itself and flows lazily through it during the dry. countless freshwater crocs lined the banks and in places you could walk to within a metre or so of them. They appeared to be bored with tourists and ignored everyone.

The walls of the gorge a pitted with many caves. It was in these that the aboriginal leader Pigeon hid from the police during his armed rebellion late last century.

On the plateau walls outside the gorge, there was reputed to be some aboriginal rock art. This is not sign posted or documented in the literature because the park authorities do not want people looking at it. Derek Blackman had given us some rough directions so we headed off across country on foot through shoulder high grasses. In no time at all, our clothes were a mass of grass seeds. Christine appeared keen on giving up but I soon left her behind and located the paintings. She reluctantly caught up. These were actually Bradshaws, paintings done by what the aboriginals describe as the First People. They must have been incredibly ancient. I felt privileged to be able to see them.

By the time we got back to the car, we were absolutely starving. This is a good thing because we are still trying to lose weight but I think we were both feeling a bit weak. Thinking back, we had tromped along a sandy river bank fishing, broken camp, driven to the gorge, walked a couple of kms up and down the gorge then gone on safari after rock art. All this since breakfast. We devoured and orange and a third of a packet of Milk Arrowroots. Luxury!

The next stop was Tunnel Creek, 35kms South. The road was definitely starting to deteriorate and we were leaving caravan territory far behind.

Tunnel Creek is a 750m long cave cutting through the same Devonian Reef. It is possible to navigate its length with a good torch and some wading gear. This we did with ease. Midway along the tunnel, a fall in has produced a large sink-hole. Amazing roots grew down through the limestone seeking water and bats hung from the trees clinging to the sides of the cliffs. In the pools within the cave, hundreds of small catfish and perch flittered through the torch light, their whole lifestyle thrown into chaos by the presence of this small amount of light.

At the other end of the tunnel we found more rock art, Wadjinas this time. These are the paintings which Eric von Danikan claimed represented extra terrestrial visitors. He made a lot of money from that claim so I suppose it had some merit.

Our energy levels were giving out by the time we emerged from the tunnel. Our camp destination was 65kms to the South so we set off, delaying food yet again. The road after Tunnel Creek became quite rugged in places, especially near creek crossings. Several of these had a good flow of water and we were tempted to stop and try for cherrabin. We resisted however, and pressed on to our stop, a disused quarry only 10kms from the sealed highway to Fitzroy Crossing.

We found the quarry but so had a great many more people. It was a very beautiful place, with the main pit having filled with water and the surrounding rocks and remnant fossilised coral reef creating an endless variety of nooks and crannies. We camped opposite Will and Sue, acquaintances from further up the track. We joined them down at the pool for a swim and to watch Will catch tiny perch on trout lures. We wondered at the origin of the fish in what was obviously a man-made water catchment.

After tea, we joined Will and Sue with another couple, Murray and Sandy. When the talk got around to Shark Bay, Will told us he had been professionally fishing for snapper in the Bay at the time we lived there. He lost quite a lot of money on that venture.

Murray eventually produced a beautiful didgeridoo. He had taught himself to play using a vacuum cleaner pipe and later graduating to poly pipe before investing in the genuine article. He played it like I have never heard it played before and was easily more skilful than many of the aboriginal dance troupes we have had visit the schools. He had a fine repertoire of animal noises. Around a camp fire, surrounded by ancient mountains and under a boab tree, the whole thing was very moving. The deep tones of this marvellous instrument echoed around us. After his first "bracket" applause broke out from the surrounding camps. A couple nearby, Bluey and his girlfriend (a lovely German girl with a strong Scots accent) joined us and Bluey brought his guitar. The evening was a highlight and one we will remember for a long time to come.

Sometimes you meet people on the road that you take an instant liking to. It is with regret that you go separate ways the next day. Will and Sue are two such people. Being Perth based, we should have got more details and caught up but somehow the magic of the surroundings and the time intervenes and we never even think to ask. A Victorian chap named Bill that we met summed it up well by saying that on the road, it all class or income distinctions disappear. When you are all camped in the same little patch of paradise, you are all equal.

Day 58 July 26

We packed and headed for Camballin. This meant back tracking for 130kms along the sealed highway towards Derby but our return journey via the Gibb River Road means that we will miss it. After 50kms or so, Christine looked up from studying the map and announced that it would be better to get to Camballin via Derby on the return journey. I pulled over, looked at the figures and agreed. We turned around and headed towards Fitzroy Crossing.

The Crossing is as bad as ever. The place is featureless and ugly. The sight of some of the aboriginal groups is totally depressing. In fact, after visiting a supermarket and seeing the sorry state of the local people, we left the town thoroughly depressed and feeling a little ill. It is so hard to reconcile the life style we are leading at the moment with the life that these people lead. Even though we needed to stock up on our wine supplies, I could not bring myself to think of purchasing alcohol in Fitzroy Crossing. It's enough to turn me off.

Between Fitzroy and Halls Creek is the Mary River Crossing. We stopped in with plans to spend the night. Unfortunately, there was simply nowhere left to camp. Now that we are back on the sealed road, camping spots are hard to find and Fitzroy and Halls Creek do not have a lot to attract caravaners.

We also stopped at a high lookout for lunch and were greeted with the sight of a well conditioned dingo loping along the edge of the cliff.

We pushed on to Halls Creek and passing through without stopping. Turning South along the Duncan road, we decided to locate Sawpit Gorge, the source of so much trouble on our last trip when we failed to find it and got rather lost. The Duncan road is unsealed and leads down through some very rugged country studded with old gold mines. We finally located the gorge, thanks to some directions in a guide book and confirmed our suspicions that we were actually within 250m of the turnoff on our last trip. The gorge itself is probably not worth the effort, although it makes a reasonable campsite. It has a nice large pool within it although it is rapidly becoming stagnant and with dropping oxygen levels, is full of dying fish. Archer fish, chanda perch and eel tailed catfish laze around and are so lethargic that I caught some by hand. There doesn't seem to be any cherrabin.

Bungle Bungles

Day 59 July 27

The night was absolutely freezing and over breakfast we implored the sun to rise above the rim of the gorge. In reality, it was probably about 10 degrees but around here that it is pretty cold. We packed quickly to keep warm and set off back into Halls Creek.

There we chatted to the lady at the Tourist Centre, weighing up options for a trip into the Bungle Bungles. Finally, we decided to drive in and camp, a stay of at least two nights being necessary to see the sights.

The 100kms or so North to the turn off flew by and soon we faced the 53km track in to the National Park. At first, I was very critical of the track, claiming that the government could do more to improve the state of the road but as we drove on the nature of the problem became clear. A road here would be very expensive because of the rugged nature of the terrain. The track winds its way across the Carr Boyd Ranges in a twisting winding roller coaster fashion. Every so often there is a sign stating something silly like "Winding Road Next 12kms". In truth, it never straightens out. The surface of the road was quite good and did not warrant 4 wheel drive. However, poor ground clearance and frequent creek crossings means that the track is definitely 4 wheel drive only. Many creeks had a good flow of water in them with water up to the running boards.

The 53kms took us just over 2 ½ hours. We spoke to someone later who did it in an hour and a half but this is obviously crazy. We took it slow and easy and had no problems at all.

The view from Kurrajong Camp

We set up camp at Kurrajong Camp, a pretty place with magnificent views across to the massive walls of the Bungle Bungle Range. The main attractions are at opposite ends of the Range so it is necessary to camp somewhere in between and to drive to the various features.

That evening, we spent an enjoyable evening with a Victorian family, both teachers on leave with their twin 15 year old son and daughter. They had "done all the gorges" and were able to fill us and give us tips. We were planning to visit all of the gorges on the one day and they warned that we would be very tired.

Day 60 July 28

We were up very early to prepare for the rigours of a whole day spent bushwalking. The first stop was Cathedral Gorge, a comfortable 3km round trip. Unfortunately, the car park was a very uncomfortable 28km drive, the first 23km of which was good, allowing a stedy 40kph. The last 5km was down to walking pace, inching our way over rocky outcrops and ledges. A couple of creek crossings were very interesting. When the car is inclined so steeply that you can't see the road you have to trust the vehicle.

Walking into Cathedral Gorge

The car park gave fantastic views of the famous Beehive Domes. As we were driving up, I flet that these were not as impressive as the pictures make out but once underneath them, they were truly awesome. We set off on the walk to Cathedral Gorge, following a dry creek bed with occasional small pools. Once in the gorge itself, the temperature dropped dramatically and walking became very pleasant. The gorge narrowed as it wound through the domes and in several places there were beautiful pools and remnant waterfalls. Although dry, these falls were evident by the spout-like erosion of the rock. During the wet, the sight of hundreds of cascades falling the full height of the range must be marvellous. It is a sight very few people would have ever managed to see.

The gorge ended in an amazing amphitheatre, forming an almost perfect orchestral shell. A word softly spoken in the centre was clearly audible anywhere throughout. Some groups that we spoke to later had actually started up little choral groups to get the full effect. A very green pool lay in the centre, far from fit for swimming.

It was lunchtime when we got back to the camp. We were both sore already, as much from the driving as the walking. Once refreshed and revived, we headed off for the 16km drive to the other end of the range and the Echidna Chasm.

Inside the Cathedral

The chasm is a narrow fissure in the rock that extends the full height of the range, some 300 metres. Standing within the chasm and looking up at the sky far above is spectacular. Given that the walls are made of a loose conglomerate of rounded river stones and clay, it is also a little unnerving. At one point, there is a barrel sized boulder suspended above, wedged between the walls. The fissure winds on for over a kilometre into the range, ending abruptly in what must be a huge waterfall in the wet. In places, we had to climb up and over boulders. We both felt good that we managed to get to the end.

The walk into Echidna Chasm

On the way in to the chasm, along the edge of the dry creek bed, I saw a bantam sized bird with an unusual hopping running gait. On our approach, it flew up into a nearby tree and proceeded to regale us with an incredibly varied and beautiful call. I suggested it may be a type of bower bird, then felt quite pleased with myself when a few more paces brought us up to a neatly constructed bower. It was full of white and grey pebbles, pieces of bone and anything else that gleamed white. We tried to photograph the bird in his bower but without success.

Next on the list was Frog Pool Gorge, a short walk but rated as hard. It certainly involved a lot of climbing, although given that we never did find the Frog Pool, we probably did not do enough climbing. The gorge itself was beautiful and very different to the Cathedral Gorge at the other end of the range. Here the Livistonia Palms abound, clinging to the sides of the gorge in nooks and crannies. They give the whole place a very tropical feel.

With protesting legs, we abandoned the Mini Palms walk of 5kms and headed back to camp, defeated in our efforts to do all the gorges but well content with our efforts. I certainly underestimated the physical effort required to drive in this country. Continuous use of the clutch, gears and brake for hours at a time gets to be hard work.

Crossing a creek coming out of the Bungle Bungles

Day 61 July 29

We faced the journey out of the Bungles with trepidation. The risk of damage is always there, especially in the morning when many cars are coming in and all the corners are blind. At one point, with 20kms to go and just over the last of the big creek crossings, we came across a late 70s model Holden station wagon with two young guys standing alongside. I pulled up and suggested that there was no way they would got in, or even go any further than they were now. They agreed with me, saying that they had got this far yesterday then cycled the next 30kms or so. Unfortunately, by the time they got in, it was dark and they couldn't see any of the attractions so they had to cycle out again. Now their legs were like jelly and they felt unable to repeat the ride. They were waiting for someone to give them a lift. Human endeavour takes all forms, much of it plain stupid I guess.

By the time we emerged unscathed, we were elated. We had "done the Bungles". It is quite a little adventure.

We drove up the sealed highway to Turkey Creek, intending on using the caravan park there to recover and recharge batteries. Unfortunately, there was no room available so we rang Kununurra and booked the last site in the Town Caravan Park. Lack of accommodation is quite a problem at the height of the season. Tourism is reported to be growing at over 10% a year in the Kimberleys and most of it is caravan based. With the main effects being for only 10 weeks a year, the parks are reluctant to commit big development money. What is needed is Shire assistance to cater for overflow situations. Broome does this by allowing the PCYC to run a temporary camping ground on an oval. Exmouth does a similar thing. Derby and Kununurra needs to do more.

This meant another 200 kms of driving but with the luxury of bitumen we were soon there and settled in. Our spot turned out to be a tiny corner next to the back-packers camp. They are a feral lot. With all the fruit picking work available in Kununurra, the place fills up with them. They live in tiny little tents and eat out of tins. Just sitting listening to the talk coming from the camp kitchen was fascinating. It was full of things like "When my money comes in...." and "I'm putting the money together to go to Europe." This was all from the ones who weren't working. Those who worked were all sleeping off the morning's back-breaking melon stacking.

In town I noticed a sign outside a butchers which advertised scallops in their shells for $3.00 a dozen. This seemed to good to be true so we went in. It was the most amazing butcher shop I have seen. We bought scallops and large king prawns but passed on the crocodile tail steaks, smoked croc legs, buffalo steaks, roo steaks, camel steaks and other assorted dissected vermin parts. They offered a bit of everything packed into an esky with recipes for $25. The walls were adorned with various game trophies and I think the guys behind the counter were probably responsible for killing everything they sold.

To our surprise, we found that Maureen and Bob Rummery were also in the park. Maureen is a teacher from Marmion and has also taken Long Service Leave. We caught up over drinks after tea. They have come across the Gibb River and reported all was well with the road. We were envious of their beautiful off road camper trailer. It is certainly rugged and well kitted out for this kind of travel.

The day finished badly with the discovery that the fridge has died again. Although under warranty, our present circumstances make this a disaster. The lady running the park offered us the use of her freezer for our seafood. We went to bed feeling depressed.

Day 62 July 30

Christine's birthday!

A check with the fridge company cheered us up. They have a repair outlet in Broome so we only have to use the fridge as an esky across the Gibb River. All is not lost.

The day was spent catching up with old acquaintances. Firstly, we went to the school to pick up a few things which Marmion had faxed to me. I promised to do a bit of work for them while I'm up here. While we were there, we met a Deputy from Phoenix Primary School. He is also on leave and had come across the Gibb River Road. He was using the school's computers to e-mail some stuff back to school.

From there, we dropped in to the District Office and saw Ian Francis, a old friend from primary and secondary school days. He has been here for 11 years now and obviously loves it. We made arrangements to meet later at the Sport's Club for tea and drinks.

Also at the District Office was Laurie Andrews, a mate from college days. Laurie is now the District Director of the Kimberleys. He has rarely left the Kimberleys since starting teaching. Laurie lives in Broome and we promised to look him up again on our return.

For lunch, we took a trip out to the Melon Farm on the irrigation plains. Here, every type of melon imaginable is grown and we sampled the lot. All were ridiculously cheap and we delighted in a half rock melon piled high with icecream for $1.50. We stocked up on fruit.

The afternoon consisted of a half hearted fish on the river before retiring to camp for a good sleep.

The meal that evening at the Sports Club was excellent and cheap. We enjoyed at terrific night catching up with Ian and filling in the last 25 years or so.

Day 63 July 31

We spent the whole day doing very little. We both have a need to recover from some fairly hard living. I also put in a solid afternoon's work on some school work to e-mail back to Marmion.

After tea (we pigged out on our scallops and prawns), we went back down to the Sports Club for the football semi-final being played under lights. It was a match between two Kununurra based teams in a four way competition. The standard was not too high with the good hearted banter between the various supporters providing most of the entertainment.

Afterwards, we went back "home" to watch the Eagles get their first win in 4 matches.

El Questro

Day 65 August 2

We left Kununurra to commence the famous Gibb River Road. It carries a bit of mystique to it and we both hoped it would treat us kindly yet live up to some of its reputation as a wilderness.

As soon as we turned off the Wyndham Road, the scenery was spectacular. The Cockburn Range Escarpment was almost familiar, so commonly is it used on the front of guide books and road atlases. With a recent grading, the road itself was in excellent condition and we maintained a steady 70-80kph all the way to El Questro Station.

I was fully prepared to not like El Questro. It has been written up and shown on television so many times that I expected something like what Monkey Mia has become. I was wrong. It is certainly beautiful with many luxuries but everything blends in with the surroundings so well the modenr luxuries don't seem to detract from the natural beauty.

Raindrops Pool at Emma Gorge

The first stop was Emma Gorge. The resort consists of a restaurant and bar, rolling green grasses under shady trees, a swimming pool and a series of permanent tents as accommodation. These varied in size from single to family style with en-suite facilities. From the resort, it is a 45 minute walk along the gorge to a couple of pools. The first was the Turquoise Pool, aptly named and surrounded by rainforest. The second was the droplet waterfall and is quite breath taking.

A large pool lies under a 100metre straight drop waterfall. The water is icy cold and brilliantly clear. On the other side of the gorge, a light trickle of water over the gorge wall breaks into drops, forming a cascade of droplets which catch the sun as they fall like rain. We swam in the numbing cold for a while before discovering the delights of a small thermal pool past the droplet waterfall. This was luxuriously warm and we spent quite a while just relaxing in the warmth.

Finally, we headed on the walk back. We had to leave the cool of the rainforest and head back along the gorge to the resort in ever increasing heat. The swimming pool beckoned but we were horrified to find it was no warmer than Emma Gorge.

We pushed on to the Station Homestead, about 40kms away. We paid for a couple of night's accommodation, choosing the bottom of the range basic camping at $10 a head. We could have chosen various levels right up to $500 a night for a suite built out over the edge of Chamberlain Gorge. We were well satisfied, the camping being in beautiful surroundings along the edge of the Pentecost River. We could have taken one of the private campsites further away from the homestead at the same cost but we decided we wanted someone to talk to.

In one place, the river had been dammed up with boulders and a beach of clean river sand created, forming a lovely swimming pool. This was warmer than Emma Gorge and with its Li-los and mattresses, became a regular haunt of the next couple of days.

Emma Gorge Resort – El Questro

A couple of donkey foals wandered around the camp site, as well as a few belligerent geese. These added an atmosphere to a lively camping site.

Day 66 August 3

We were up early to take advantage of a half day hire of a boat. The hire boat consist of a 14' aluminium boat with an electric outboard, perfect for shallow water and silent fishing. Fishing was actually a secondary pursuit, the main object being to explore Chamberlain Gorge and the aboriginal rock art at the far end of the waterway. The gorge itself provided a good expanse of navigable water and some spectacular scenery, although it is amazing how blase one can become after so many gorges.

The scenery was better than the fishing in Chamberlain Gorge

I cast lures and trolled for the length of the gorge while Christine steered. I have decided that there are no barramundi at all. All the pictures adorning the bar walls at the campsite showing people with barramundi on the edge of this very gorge are lies.

The rock art, on the other hand, was worth seeing. Again, I felt that the art was almost familiar, so famous is this particular location. 3 or 4 large Wadjinas adorned the walls of an overhand and other fainter and smaller kangaroo and stick figures were evident. This is the first rock art I have seen that has really impressed me for its artistic sense. It was truly beautiful.

We spent a lot of time fishing and wetting drop nets for cherrabin without success. I was also surprised by the lack of crocodiles. It is the first time we have been in such a large body of water without seeing any. We did see a couple of water monitors and a few bats so we were well satisfied.

Rock art in Chamberlain Gorge

Christine was skipper while I fished

Back in camp in the heat of noon, we headed for the pool, had lunch then went back to the pool again. The afternoon was earmarked for another gorge walk but we decided to wait until the temperature dropped a little. It wasn't hard to drop off to sleep on the cool grass near the pool.

Around 3:00, we headed off to El Questro Gorge, listed as a 30 minute walk. After 45 minutes, we were wondering just where the first pool was. The gorge itself was very pretty, with some of the nicest rainforest we have yet encountered. However, the walk was strenuous and required a lot of balancing as we crossed and re-crossed the creek endlessly, using stepping stones, tree trunks and even palm fronds laid on the mud. Finally we reached the swimming pool, declared it to be ho-hum and set off on the return journey, feeling a little "gorged out".

We spent the evening chatting to a couple and their friend from Geraldton. She was a teacher on long service leave (the North is full of them). They had left their caravan in Kununurra and were sleeping out under the stars, not even having a tent. Having left Kununurra, the nights have turned cold again, not getting down to the near frosts of Halls Creek and the Bungles but certainly requiring blankets etc during the early hours. We wished them luck.

Day 67 August 4

We left El Questro, stopping at Zebidee Springs on the way out. These a series of thermal springs forming a number of beautiful small pools and waterfalls and surrounded by a lush grove of Livistonia and Pandanus Palms. The effect is quite charming and it is the perfect place to have a warm soak. Like Mataranka in the Northern Territory, the water is crystal clear. Unlike Mataranka, the crowds are acceptably small and it is possible to pick a small pool under a waterfall and treat it just like your own private hot spar. The water is a good bath temperature.

A thermal spar at Zebidee Springs

The Gibb River Road

Once back on to the Gibb River Road, we were hopeful of continuing good road conditions. The graders had done a good job, although we still had to slow to a near walk in places where rock outcrops protruded. I was also very wary of sections of road which were surfaced in sharp angular stones. Others had told horror stories of losing 3 and 4 tyres to these nasty beasts. We figured that hitting a sharp stone at 60kph is a lot better on the tyre than 90kph. From the speeds of cars coming towards us, few share our view.

Crossing the Pentecost River

We stopped for a drink at the Home Valley Homestead, a quaint older style homestead struggling to cater for the tourist. Situated only 35kms from El Questro, their chances of success are slim.

Around lunchtime, we reached Jack's Waterhole, a beautiful long deep reach on the Durack River. Camping is allowed along the river for a small charge and a hot shower and toilet is provided. With safe swimming in the river, we elected to stay and found a secluded camp site right on the edge of the river.

We put in the cherrabin nets and were encouraged by catching one straight away. Sadly, this was the only we caught. He became barramundi bait but was stolen from my hook by a most inconsiderate fish who did not even bother to tell me. I tramped around the waterhole casting and climbing trees to retrieve lost lures. Christine read a book.

The tranquillity of Jack’s Waterhole on the Durack River

The evening was spent around a camp fire with a couple of South Australian families from Port Lincoln. They were travelling with children and much of the conversation seemed to revolve around what it must be like not to have the kids. They were very nice people and they were able to give us a bit advice about the road ahead while we filled them in on Kununurra.

Day 67 July 5

We covered about 240kms today, camping for the night at Manning Gorge near the Mt Barnett Roadhouse. The drive was easy and scenic until the Kalumburu turn-off. Then the graded road ran out and the country flattened out. This is the first flat boring country we have seen in the whole Kimberleys. The road alternated between excellent flat fine gravel and terrible rough stones with long deep corrugations. The corrugations were the worst.

We stopped at many small creeks and rivers along the way. Most had good flowing water in them and many flowed across the road.

The Manning River was a welcome sight and we went for a couple of great swims. The place here is quite crowded, although the camping area is large so we aren't on top of each other. The gorge boasts a beautiful waterfall at the far end of a 1 and 1/2 hour walk but the reports say it has slowed to a trickle. This sounds like a great excuse to avoid the walk.

Day 68 July 5

It was on to Mt Hart Station today. Along the way, we stopped and walked and swam in a couple of gorges.

We got up late, lazed around and had a swim in the Manning River first. There we chatted to a couple from Northampton, he being the Principal of St Mary's School. It seems like half the population is composed of teachers on leave.

It was only a short drive to Galvan's Gorge, not really a gorge as such but a lovely waterfall cascading down from a plateau. As we approached the pool, I remarked to Christine about how one of the women swimming looked like Lyn Tyler, a friend from Wyalkatchem. Suddenly, Lyn's strident voice carried across the water, "It's the Hinchliffes!" What an amazing coincidence. We spent a bit of time catching up on the past.

The waterfall at Galvan’s Gorge (Lyn Tyler is the one on the left)

After a swim over to and under the waterfall, we pushed on to Adcock Gorge. Again, the term gorge is a bit exaggerated but it is a lovely waterfall and the plant life in the pools is spectacular. In places, there were water-lillies and a lovely underwater fern which grew in a spiral pattern. The whole setting would have been the envy of many a landscape gardener. Adcock Gorge also proved to be at the end of a truly shocking road, thankfully only 5kms long. Much longer and I wouldn't have bothered.

By now, flies are starting to become a problem during the day and lunch at Adcock was a hurried affair of mostly fruit to keep the flies away.

We stopped for the day at Silent Grove, the site of an abandoned homestead and now part of the Mt Hart Conservation Park. It makes a lovely camping area and we set up next to Ivan and Fay, whom we had met earlier at Manning Gorge. They are travelling slowly home to Doubleview, after 3 years on the road, which has included a long stay in Cairns.

Has we been earlier, we could have picked up a tag from the gate as we came in allowing us to occupy one of the individual sites further along and adjoining the river. All along the Gibb River Road, people have been giving us tips on how to be here just at the right time to get a tag and which are the best spots. However, now that we have arrived, we find that the camping area is more interesting and the secluded sites are no better than the many places we have stayed along the way.

Day 69 July 6

We were away early, headed to Bells Gorge yet undecided to return to Silent Grove for another night. Bells Gorge has been recommended by many travellers as the best of the Gibb River Road Gorges and we were looking forward to it.

It certainly did not disappoint. It differs from all the others in that it approached from above. This means a steep walk down from the car park (conscious that it means a steep walk back) and then following a clear running creek fro about a kilometre. The creek opens out, joins another then disappears over a precipice and into a heart-stopping canyon. We approached the edge carefully and gazed on the people below swimming and cavorting in the gorge. How to get down?

The top falls at Bell’s Gorge

Eventually, we worked out that we had to climb up in order to go down. This meant another long walk and steep climb down which brought us into the gorge about half way along its length. From here, we could see that this was only the first gorge, the river again disappearing over the edge into space. We decided the easiest way to navigate the gorge was to swim so we headed off downstream, clambered over rocks and crept up to the edge of the cliff on our hands and knees. A sheer drop of around 100metres greeted us and the river plunged down into the next canyon. We lay on our stomachs for about 5 minutes looking over the edge until a touch of nausea drove us back. I still can't believe Christine did that.

Swimming in Bell’s Gorge

We swam back upstream for about 300 metres, resting here and there to chat to others, many of whom were familiar from along the track. The water temperature was perfect, cooling yet not chilling and the scenery was spectacular. After a bout 2 hours, we realised our mistake in not bringing lunch down with us. We were getting seriously hungry with all the swimming. The climb back up to the car proved easier than we had thought, and after a quick snack we felt sufficiently revived to push on.

Looking over the lower falls, Bell’s Gorge

Rejecting the idea of staying on, we drove up into the King Leopold Ranges. Places of interest were now very frequent, with the ranges providing numerous creek crossings and pools. We investigated many of these as possible camp sites, stopping at Bells Creek for lunch, passing through March Fly Glen and finally setting up camp at Dog Chain Creek. (Who thought up these names?)

The flies were terrible so we rigged up a fly net, popped the mattresses under it and spent the afternoon reading and sleeping. It was a matter of waiting for sundown and the flies' bed time.

While collecting firewood, I noticed some droppings that looked suspiciously like pig poo. All night long, every time there was a rustle, I imagined a wild porker crashing through the side of the tent. In the early hours, donkeys started braying away in the distance. It was an interesting night.

Day 70 July 7

With the flies threatening again, we were packed and on the road by 7:00. Only the Lennard River Gorge remained before completing our circuit route back at the Lennard River Crossing. Our guide book described the gorge as being at the end of a 8km track of well formed gravel with only one easily navigated creek crossing. For 6km, this description proved accurate until suddenly the track pointed straight up into the sky and was composed of large round boulders. The actual end of the climb was not visible and after only about 20 metres I chickened out. We both figured that one more gorge was not worth the effort or risk of getting there. We backed out.

Avoiding the gorge put us in to the Lennard River Bridge camp much earlier than we had planned so we decided to push on and go into Derby. Once in Phone range, we would be able to ring Broome and check on the whereabouts of Travis. Depending on his movements, we would plan ours.

From the Windjana Gorge turn-off, the road was beautifully graded and flat so we hardly even noticed the sudden appearance of bitumen, 60kms out of Derby. We had "done the Gibb", happily without mechanical failure or lost tyre. After so many reports of disaster, I'm convinced that speed is the difference. By taking our time and checking road conditions, we avoided the problems.

A check with Derek revealed that Travis had just returned from sea for a 2 week stint ashore. With this news, we headed for Broome.

Walking back into the house, it hardly seemed like we had been away for 3 weeks. Renee was back from the station, Derek had had 10 days away at sea and Travis was around somewhere recovering from alcoholic poisoning. When he did finally appear, we decided he had hardly changed from the last time we saw him. I think this was about 7 years ago. He is now 25 but we had to be careful not to slip up and call him young Travi.

It being a Sunday, we went down to the Cable Beach Club for Mix'n'Match Tennis, although Christine decided to sit out and lick her wounds from all our gorge walking. We were both pleased to hop on the scales back in Brooms, with pleasing weight loss being recorded.

Broome Again

Day 71 July 8

With Derek off at work, we had a day of attending to a few chores, including tracking down the fridge people. With left the fridge with them, a little put off by their non-commital attitude when asked how long it would take. We wandered around China Town again, relaxed and generally unwound from the rigours of the last 3 weeks.

Day 72 July 9

We set off for some fishing down towards Crab Creek. Along the way, we were hailed by the driver of an old battered Landcruiser who had broken down so we assisted with a tow.

The fishing itself was hopeless. I caught nothing, saw nothing and lost gear on the rocks. The surroundings were pleasant however, and the morning passed. Travis has promised to take me fishing when he gets time so I'll have to wait for his expert assistance.

A check on the fridge surprised us and we went to pick it up. We tried to get some details about why the compressors keep failing but the guy at the fridge place only uses 1 or 2 words a day.

We went for a bit of a drive in the afternoon out to Gantheume Point and Town Beach.

Day 72 July 10

We don't seem to do much each day and it's great. I have realy enjoyed our stays in Broome. The use of a comfortable house and relaxing conditions has been a much needed break from the very active life on the road or at sea.

Today I had a haircut, did some shopping, prepared for our next trip away and lazed away the afternoon at the local swimming pool.

The evening was spent done on Cable Beach with Derek and Elly. Tony and Sonja, whom we had met on our last stop at Broome also wandered along and we spent quite a bit of time in party mode. Cable Beach at sunset is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and the fact that it is still unspoilt enough to allow vehicle access and has room enough for a 1000 parties adds to the appeal.

We really must get more active again before we put back all the weight we have lost.

Day 73 August 11

I was on a promise of fishing with Travis today. He called off the morning fish, announcing a change of plans. This was supposed to be something to do with tides and winds but I think it had more to do with a late night out.

By the time he was organised with a boat it was well into the afternoon. The plan was to tow the boat up to Willie Creek, about 30km North of Broome, catch some mullet to use as live bait and fish a "sure fire spot" for barramundi. Lincoln, Renee's boyfriend came with us.

With the tide almost on a full low, launching the boat was only for the experienced. Travis backed the trailer along a narrow ribbon of firm ground with steep and very slippery mud banks on either side. Linc and I were horrified but he seemed to know what he was doing.

From there, we motored up a small side stream, barely a trickle until the boat grounded out. Travis and I got out and headed off upstream to some shallow pools while Linc, more concerned about the thought of a crocodile and the sight of a sea snake, stayed with the boat. In no time at all, we had sufficient small mullet and we headed back to the main creek for barra. The spot looked very fishy, we were just ready for the turn of the tide, we had the top barra bait.

I won't drag it out. Linc caught a catfish and a stonefish, making him the top fisherman. I was at least heartened that even Travis can fail. I could see he was upset. I felt a little smug.

Day 74 August 12


We left for points North, leaving the boat with Derek still. We had no particular destination in mind but were happy to explore some of the areas North of Willie Creek.

The first thing we found was that there were a lot of people in the area. Barred Creek did not appeal overly much so we pushed on to Quondong Point. This proved to be well named, with four or five huge quondong trees providing the best camping sites. We were lucky because just as we drove up, a couple vacated one of these spots and we snapped it up.

It was high tide and an unusually big swell was running, rare in this part of the world. We joined a number of others for a great swim and a session of body surfing, something I have not done for years. It was a good thing we took the opportunity while it was there, because the tide dropped rapidly, leaving a rocky bottom exposed.

Quondong Point

The wind, which had been blowing very strongly from the East all morning, abated a little in the afternoon. All the surrounding countryside had been recently burnt off and the strong winds brought a stream of ash raining down on us. We debated moving on, before deciding that it would be the same further North and we were unlikely to find such a good tree to camp under. We stayed.

Day 75 August 13

The winds returned, not as strong as yesterday but still annoying. The fires raged on all around us and the smoke across the sun bathed everything in an eerie half-light.

The swell was much less today and we missed out on the joys of body surfing. We snorkelled in stead and had a couple of swims with other campers.

The day passed with reading, snoozing and an attempt to fish. I tried a berley trail, lures and even oysters for bait but nothing came passed. We saw very few fish while snorkelling. I think this is a boat fishing place.

In the evening, the nearby clearings and raod verges came alive with wallabies. I could not identify the species but they were of medium size with a black stripe running through their eyes. They were far from tame and seemed to keep one or two of the mob on guard while the others grazed. Any movement from us had them hopping off to the cover of the scrub.

Day 76 August 14

Middle Lagoon

We wasted no time in packing, anxious to be away to Middle Lagoon. With everything stowed and packed, I went to start the car. No battery! I got out the hydrometer and tested the main battery. It showed a near full charge. Puzzled, I tested the second battery and it showed a charge as well. We checked the leads and all seemed in order but still little or no power. I checked the main battery again and worked through each cell. The last one showed no charge so the battery had died.

The prospect of getting the two big boat batteries out and connected did not appeal so Christine walked to the next camp and organised a jump start while I swapped over the secondary battery. This worked but lacked enough power to start us from cold.

Once on the road, we decided to head back in to Broome to get another battery. It being a Sunday, we figured that there would be few options and we wopuld have to pay top dollar but we had little choice. Pulling into the same BP garage that had fixed our air conditoner problem, we noticed a large stock of 4 X 4 batteries stacked up outside. "How much?" I asked, expecting $150 or more. I was pleasantly surprised to find a mere $105 which was $10 less than we had paid for the same battery in Perth 18 months earlier.

With our problem solved, it was back on the road. The track was in good condition and we managed a consistent 70 kph. The traffic was surprisingly heavy and certainly showed the growth of tourism in the Cape Leveque area.

The only drama on the trip came when we hit a large brown goshawk. It flew across in front of us and ended up caught on the roo bar. We stopped and I pulled him off the car by one wing. At this point, he decided he wasn't dead and crawled through under the car to the rear, trailing one wing pathetically. He lay in one wheel rut looking poorly. After looking at his beak and talons, I lost interest in further handling so I decided it was best to back up over him to put him out of his misery. He disagreed and scooted out of the way. Our last sight was of of a half flying half running bird of prey heading towards the cover of the bush. I think he was actually going to be OK.

Middle Lagoon proved to be delightful and we realised why Renee had been so glowing in her praise of the place. A peaceful sheltered lagoon is fringed with white sandy beaches, safe for swimming. At one end, a low point of rocks protrudes while the other end of the bay is marked by a delightful creek. Oysters abound and the place at least looks very fishy.

We had booked a beachside hut, roughly constructed of shade cloth and palm fronds. Half the hut is floored with pine boards so escape from the wandering hermit crabs is assured. It was a mere 20 or 200 metres to the water, depending on the state of the tide.

Our beach accommodation at Middle Lagoon

We unloaded and took to the water which was warm and crystal clear.

In the late afternoon, we grabbed some fishing gear and started out on the walk to the creek. This proved to be about a kilometre and a half (we know because we counted the steps for something to do). The fish were on the bit with the falling tide but they proved to be bream. I caught a couple of very big bream but we have given up trying to cook them. A couple who had the next grass hut had been further along the creek and proudly displayed a huge mud crab. We were very envious.

During the long walk back, we marvelled at the beauty f the setting sun and committed to making the long trek again tomorrow.

Day 77 August 15

At first light, with the tide low, I went for a wander along the beach flicking out a small popper lure. I was shocked when a bluebone charged in and grabbed it, heading off towards the cover of the reef. I managed to pull it out and landed it, not quite legal size but at least it was a fish on a lure. Later, a mackerel looking fish stalked the lure repeatedly on every cast without taking it. Very frustrating.

Our beachfront at Middle Lagoon on a low tide

Later, we swam, snorkelled and fished (without success) the day away. The beach shelter was fantastic, proving remarkably cool in the noon heat and blocking the worst of the fresh Easterly wind.

Finally, we braced ourselves for the trek to the creek again. This time, we pushed on further along the creek, finding a good opening in the mangroves which gave access to a likely looking pool of water. I tossed out a bait while Christine cast the small popper lure. Second cast and wham! She caught a very nice mangrove jack around a kilo. I couldn't believe it. I spend all day casting with little interest and she bags a lovely jack second cast.

With tea in the bucket, I took over the popper and promptly cast it right over the creek and into a mangrove tree. The end of a nice lure.

The mangrove jack was delicious!

Day 78 August 16

We drove back down to Broome without incident, arriving to find that Derek had gone to Karratha and would not be back until Friday.

Everyone else seemed to be ill with bad colds. This was a particular problem for Renee with her lack of effective immune system. Linc was also poorly. He had had his tonsils removed a few weeks earlier and the wound had failed to heal. He now had a nasty abscess in his throat. Renee borrowed our car to take him into hospital to start a three day course of antibiotics while we got stuck into the job of setting the boat up.

We did well, transferring the solar system back to the boat and achieving most of the heavy tasks before collapsing for a snooze.

Day 79 August 17

It took most of the morning to finish our packing and transfer of stuff from car based living to boat living. We spent a bit of time in town shopping.

With our farewells said to Renee (she was the only one left to talk to) we got away around 1:00pm.

We stopped at the Stanley Rest Area for the night, some 235km from Broome, leaving a reasonably easy drive to Karratha.

Day 80 August 18

The drive to Karratha passed in total boredom. The crossing of the 80 mile desert has not improved, flat, featureless and straight. Looking at the countryside, we wondered about the sanity of the lone American cyclist who is missing, headed off towards Fitzroy Crossing on foot.

Passing through Port Hedland (without stopping) we rang the Dampier Caravan Park to check with our friend Michelle. Alas, she did not have any room so we decided to stay in Karratha.

The park in Karratha was dreadful. It had perfect rows of caravan bays, each with concrete pads and grass. "Don't park on the grass!" We were allocated to the back row because we were less than normal. The back row had all the camper trailers, buses and other assorted different things. The toilet blocks were fitted with keyboard combination locks so we had to punch in C1649 everytime we went to the loo. The whole park nestled in under a large iron-stone outcrop so TV reception was out of the question. We hated it.

Day 81 August 19

The weather forecast was just passable but unlikely to improve so we prepared the boat for sea. By the time we reached Dampier, the wind was up so we lazed around and waited.

By noon, the wind had eased slightly so we went to the yacht club and launched. As the boat slid off the trailer, the keel came down, catching on the rollers. I climbed aboard to rectify it and found that the winch cable had separated from the keel. This meant pulling the boat back onto the trailer and out of the water then unscrewing the top of the keel housing. The shackle was twisted out of shape and took a bit of fixing. Finally, we were in the water again.

By now, the wind was uncomfortable so we motored out a little to anchor amongst the moored yachts. I was trying out a different propeller and a short trip such as this was enough to realise that it was not very good. Also, the motor steering pivot had become very loose, making it difficult to motor. We spat the dummy and pulled out of the water yet again. With little prospect of calmer weather for 4 or 5 days, we decided to pull out and head towards Onslow, leaving Dampier for another day.

In the little that was left of the day, we managed to make the Maitland River where we had a swim and set up camp for the night.

Day 82 August 21

Onslow Again

Today we did a time jump, losing August 20. Actually, it was yesterday but I'm not sure where the days went wrong. I do know that the date has been out by one for a long time. I must make sure I start work on the right day.

I drove to Onslow, while Christine did practice STAT tests to prepare for her University entrance test.

As we pulled into the caravan park, the owner Christine called out to her husband, "Look Peter, its the yacht people back." She welcomed us and immediately asked us to have a look at her Internet connection, which had stopped working again after we had left last time. They gave us our spot on the lawn again and we felt at home. What a contrast to the ordered park in Karratha.

Throughout the afternoon, a number of people stopped by to find out what we had done since leaving and where we had been. Lochie, the park owner's little boy came along and climbed aboard, his playground returned.

Day 83 August 22

The weather forecast was promising (again) so we packed up. By the time we left the caravan park, the wind had freshened and we recalled our abortive attempts to get out 6 weeks earlier.

This time we did get the boat in the water and I motored it down the Beadon Creek while Chris drove the car the 3km back to the caravan park. I was to pick her up on the beach in front of the park.

It was soon clear this was impossible. The sea was far too big to contemplate landing on the beach and I waved Christine back to the Creek. The trip back was terrible and I got quite wet. Christine was having her problems, finding the winch handle had broken on the trailer. The day was not improving.

I managed to rig up a temporary handle and the boat was retrieved. We slunk back to the caravan park with out tail between our legs. Just to make things worse, the Eagles lost yet again, this time to the Bulldogs.

Day 84 August 23 (Happy Birthday Mum)

The weather has definitely changed. In fact, we had the opposite problem today with glassy seas. This proved to be a good thing because we made a major blunder (actually I did but "we" sounds better) and left an occy strap around the mast about two thirds of the way up. This effectively limited the amount of sail we could put up. Unfortunately, we didn't discover this until we had cleared Beadon Creek Harbour and we did not feel confident about lowering the mast at sea. In the end, there was so little wind all day that sails were not much of an issue.

We had logged a sail plan which would take us out around Direction Island and across to the Twin Islands, where I seemed to recall from a previous visit that a reasonable overnight anchorage could be found in a sheltered lagoon. The route tokk us over an unnamed shoal which was our first stop.

The site of some large ledges encouraged me to jump over the side and have a look. It proved to be a bit of a disappointment, except for a very large coral trout that came out of from under the ledge and tagged me wherever I went. I even chased away another smaller coral trout that came to look.

We moved on to the Twin Islands, inching our way in towards the SE Twin in shoaling water with a lot of breakers on the Northern side. An inviting looking sandy beach on the Southern side was guarded by heavy coral bombies so we motored over to the NE Twin.

This proved even less appealing so it was back to the first island. This time, our approach took us up to a sharp coral drop-off, from 5' shallows straight into about 20'. We anchored up for lunch and I popped a line over the side and started tossing a small blue Reidy's lure around. The mackerel loved it, although I kept dropping them. I was only using 4kg line and it was a bit hard to hang on to them. I landed one quite big one so we had plenty of fish for food and kept fishing. Something finally grabbed it and took a few short runs then hung deep out near the edge of the reef. The best view I got of it suggested a large trevally before it decided to take my lure and run away.

Painted crayfish for tea

After lunch, we moved onto a sandy area in the shallow reef for a snorkel. Christine was really impressed with the coral, with a greater variety than we had seen elsewhere. There were some amzing formations and some nice fish on the edge of the drop-off. There were crayfish too, and I grabbed a good sized one for tea. Mackerel and crayfish...such riches.

We still had the problem of finding an anchorage for the night. Consulting the chart, Christine identified a couple of likely looking creeks on the mainland about 5 miles away. We calculated that we had enough time to check these out and still make a run back to Beadon Creek if needs be. The wind had picked up slightly, so we motor sailed off.

Both creeks proved to be protected by sand-bars and breakers so we had no alternative but to go back to Onslow. Although the ocean is very interesting in this part of the World, there are few good anchorages and a great deal of shallow coral reef. We have decided it is not an ideal place for a trailer sailer.

We made Onslow just on sundown and went back to the caravan park, much to everyone's surprise. The crayfish, fried in teriyaki and soy sauce with a wine white sauce was fantastic.

Day 85 August 24

With the weather so calm, we decided to go to sea again, this time for an intentional day trip. The weather looked like holding for only one more day so we had to make the best of it.

As we cleared Beadon Creek, a fog began to roll in from the North. A light wind had us sailing slowly West as the fog deepened, until finally visibility was reduced to about 50 metres. Thankfully, with a GPS and echo sounder, sailing in fog is easy.

I put out a purple toned Barra Mauler lure to see what it attracted. I didn't have long to wait. Just West of Onlsow, it took off with a screaming run. When I grabbed the rod, I realised that this was something rather big, certainly bigger than the mackerel which have been our main trolling catch. My first view of the fish was from down deep and I called it as a large trevally, but as it came up I saw it was a huge queenfish nearly a metre long, a species which has previously eluded me. I was also surprised, because they are renowned for jumping during a fight and this one did not take to the air at all. By the time it was alongside, it was played out and release was out of the question. It would provide food for a lot of people in the caravan park. Unfortunately, while getting the treble hooks out, one broke.

The fog was lifting but the wind had gone so we motored out to Ward Reef, a significant shoal about 4 miles off Onslow. It was easily seen with breakers marking the shallowest parts. We trolled the Barra Mauler lure around, complete with broken lure, hooking a number of mackerel but losing them, probably because of the broken treble. Christine went over the side with mask and snorkel and was towed along behind the boat over some of the coral reef areas, although poor visibility was a problem.

As the tide dropped, anchoring in close behind the breakers became possible and I snorkelled over some coral adjoining a small cay. I checked the anchor as soon as I went over and found it had dropped into a hole occupied by a crayfish. This gave us our second meal of cray in two days.

That evening, we had cray, mackerel and queenfish. I gave a meal of queenfish to a chap who came along while I was cleaning it and he returned with a couple of stubbies. The rest of the queenfish we gave to the caravan park owners, who had their extended family up from Jerramungup and need to feed a horde.

A great queenfish, probably my best catch of the trip.

Day 86 August 25

Coral Bay

We have finally read the weather correctly! The wind returned today and we left Onslow, sorry that we had not managed any extended sailing but thrilled with the fishing and snorkelling.

We drove to Coral Bay, arriving around 4:00 and thankful that we had phoned ahead from Onslow and booked. The place is packed out. There are as many people here as there were during our last visit during school holidays about 6 years ago.

The wind was also with us, a good old fashioned screaming Southerly. We almost felt as though we were nearly home.

Day 87 August 26

The wind had gone to the South East, making the beach perfect. We kitted ourselves out for an extended stay with fruit, shade and snorkelling gear and headed down to the main beach area. We scored the last beach shelter and hit the water with the snorkels.

Sadly, most of the coral in the designated swimming area is dead and the damage from anchor chains is very evident. There is still some interesting fish life, including some enormous mullet and a school of squid which we estimated at over 60. They always seem to know that they are in protected waters.

The highlight of the snorkelling was further along amongst the moored boats. With the tide running in strongly, the trick was to walk South along the beach and enter the water, using the current to drift North over the coral growth. Here it was in much better condition and the fish life was staggering. Spangled Emperor around 10kg, baldchin groper, parrot fish and mullet where in abundance. Sheltering under a dinghy was a school of trevally, moving with the shade as the boat swung at anchor. Several large queenfish swam in company with the trevally and the whiting were as big as whiting grow.

We spent about 4 hours swimming, reading and dozing, before returning to the caravan park to collapse for the afternoon. Later, we drove over to Maud's Landing to fish (without a result) before indulging in a pizza for tea (only our third take-aways of the whole trip).

Day 88 August 27

After the terrific day we had yesterday, we decided to spend the morning fishing and snorkelling in a bay down South. We packed up again and set off, locating a top spot after only a short drive along the track. Even from the car, we could see the fish pouring over the shallow sand and coral.

Flicking a lure out didn't produce anything other than a couple of hits from longtoms. Christine had also drawn a blank with the sqid jig so we went for a snorkel. The coral was different here and the fish life not as prolific as in the totally protected area. There were a few queenfish and large whiting, enough to keep us interested in fishing. Christine also found a great squid jig snagged in the corals.

Eventually, a couple of squid came in and Christine went into action. She bagged a nice big one and we were really excited. We haven't had squid for ages and they formed a big part of our diet on the way North. Unfortunately, it broke the hooks off the jig just as it came in so the find of the jig was very timely.

We moved further South to another likely looking patch. For a brief period, there were a lot of squid over the reef and Christine caught one on the "new" jig, proving it works. Then they mysteriously disappeared. I managed to snag the squid jig so we were forced to go for a snorkel again to recover it.

We had lunch back in the caravan park, slept a little in the afternoon before heading down to the beach for the 3:30 fish feeding. Watching a few guys pull their Range Rover and boat out of a bog was more exciting.

Day 89 August 28

Today was a repeat of yesterday, except that we explored further South. It seems to be a case of the further you go the worse it gets, because the reef angles away from the coast and good snorkelling becomes scarce. The swell also seems to affect the beach more.

We ended up moving back into similar areas that we had explored yesterday. In one spot, we could see a school of about 8 squid in a calm bay. We backtracked and managed to get the car down to where they were. I caught the first one and was just starting to crow about how big it was when Christine hooked hers. It was truly enormous. Combined with yesterday's catch, we now had enough squid to last a week. The rest of the day was spent reading and relaxing, much as any other.

Coral Bay both delights and upsets me. We have had a terrific time here. The water is easily the best in WA and the weather has been very kind to us. The down side of Coral Bay is the lack of a town. There are a few shops and tow large caravan parks. There is also a collection of about 20 houses. What upsets me is that the only development is dollar driven. No one seems to live in Coral Bay for its own sake so there is no development of facilities or infrastructure for local residents. Access road remains potholed because no-one takes responsibility for them. Boat launching is across the beach, easy enough on most tides but parking and boat mooring seems to be lacking any real direction or order. All prices are at a premium.

It could be so much better.

Day 90 August 29

We pulled out of Coral Bay and drove South to Carnarvon to pick up supplies. From there, we drove back North to Quobba Point. Here, there is a shanty town of fisherman's shacks and squatter units. Camping areas nestle between the shacks and we managed to grab a great spot near the beach. More camps and vans could be seen stretching for 3 kms South along the coast. There is an honour box for the payment of a nominal $1 per person per night which covers the provision of rubbish facilities and a few pit toilets.

We did little else than settle in and set up camp, leaving the snorkelling and fishing for tomorrow. While organising the boat trailer I noticed a wheel was a bit askew. On jacking the trailer up and checking, I found that the bearing had broken up, a puzzling thing because I replaced both bearings before setting off. Still, we were fortunate to notice it before we lost a wheel on the road. I left the boat on stands and organised the wheel to take in to Carnarvon tomorrow for repair.

We got together for 5 o'clock drinks with our neighbours on both sides. They have been coming to Quobba for some years and seemed very nice people.

By nightfall, the wind was up, a real Gascoyne Southerly. It rocked the boat, blew the tent around and caused tarps to shake and flap violently. This will probably be with us for a few days at least.

Day 91 August 30

Carnarvon radio talked about light to moderate Southerly winds and the chance of a shower. The reality was clear skies and 25-30 knot screaming winds. Later, we saw a "West Australian" and it talked about 10-15 knot winds from Shark Bay to Exmouth. Rubbish!

Most of the day was spent in Carnarvon, waiting to get the wheel bearing repaired. We shopped a little for us and and our neighbours, went to a book exchange, sat in the car to escape the wind at the fishing boat harbour and other menial activities.

We were given a timeline of 3:00 and at least it was done by then. We got back, fitted the wheel and had drinks with the neighbours again. The wind has not abated one little bit.

Day 92 August 31

With the wind down to a low howl, we got organised and headed for the beach with snorkels. The corals here are very pretty and there seems to be a reasonable variety of fish. Unfortunately, a strong current runs along the shoreline, making swimming very hard. The constant pounding of surf on the outer reef feeds water into the resultant lagoon and all this water has to go somewhere. The effect is so marked. that even a tidal range of around 2 metres was not noticeable on the shore itself. The lagoon is constantly full of water which flows out through the one narrow gap.

Quobba Beach

Despite the current, we had an enjoyable swim. We are both a lot fitter now than when we started. Christine's stamina has improved enormously and she was able to cope with the conditions.

Fishing produced little other than a whiting. The "long stayers" reported that the fishing was generally not good from the shore but excellent from the boats.

Day 93 September 1

We left Quobba today, stopping to have a good look at the Blowholes on the way out. Even though this is our third time at Quobba, neither of us has ever had a good look at the Blowholes. We're not sure why but there it is. They proved to be well worth a visit. It is possible to walk right up to the edge and peer over. The sheer forces involved are breathtaking. Unfortunately, the actual geysers of water only rise about a third of their original height. The navy, in all its wisdom, decided to dynamite the main hole during the war to reduce the visibility of the spray, thereby rendering them useless as a navigation aide to the thousands of Japanese subs which relied on them.

The Blowholes at Quobba

With stocks replenished in Carnarvon, we pushed on for New Beach and Bush Bay, about 35kms South of Carnarvon. The two sites were in opposite directions at the end of a T-junction. On the advice of a guide book, we chose Bush Bay to the North and set up camp on the shores of a shallow beach with a few mangroves at one end. It was pleasant enough, and as the tide rose, I joined others on the beach to catch a few whiting.

Later, we went for a drive and found that New Beach, to the South, would have made a much nicer camp site, with a pretty little creek and deeper water good for swimming. The guide book has been wrong quite a lot.

Day 94 September 2

Shark Bay Again

Shark Bay Day! We are both really looking forward to getting back to the Bay. There are few places its equal anywhere in the state. Unfortunately, we drove towards an approaching front, the last of the good weather behind us for a while.

On getting in to Denham there were a few surprises. Firstly, the Seaside Park was full. We could get a makeshift site for the night but pick up a better one tomorrow. The second shock was that the caravan was not in the compound. Craig was building some additions to the lock-up storage and our van site was occupied by bricks and cement mixers.

Craig was at sea but his boarder, Natalie, suggested we check the other compound in town. She had a key for it and sure enough, we found the van.

We set up and watched the weather turn dark. A little rain settled in, not enough to cause us any real worries but certainly bringing the temperature down. Our last rain was around June 10.

Alec and Flo Dawson are in town so we dropped in to say hello and shared a cuppa. They have a couple of sets of friends staying and the back yard looks like a caravan park.

Day 95 September 3

The morning was spent moving up to a permanent site, well located near the fish cleaning table. We put up the full caravan annexe and made a very civilised home (by our standards).

With "James Sheer" berthing, we went down to the jetty and caught up with Craig Shankland. He is in the middle of a 20 day contract with a Japanese film crew making a movie about dugongs. Strangely, as we walked down, a dugong was feeding right in the small boat harbour, closer in than I've seen them before.

In the evening, we went down to the pub to watch the Eagles win the 1st Qualifying Final against all odds. It was a great win.

Day 96 September 4

With the wind well up, we spent a lazy day. Walks, football on TV, reading etc. A highlight of the day was setting up a running water tap to the caravan sink.

During the evening, we watched a young Swiss couple opposite us battle with the elements. With only a 4-wheel drive to live in, they looked distinctly uncomfortable. Christine invited them over, and we spent a very entertaining evening talking about our respective countries, "Germans" (which they took pains to point out they weren't), Martina Hingis and other great things. Tomorrow, they plan to go up to Peron, their first real 4-wheel driving. I gave a few tips about tyre pressure and the dangers of birida pans.

Day 97 September 5

The wind was supposed to ease today, which it did by lunchtime. It remains very cold though, and we decided against going out until tomorrow. This left us with the Sunday Times, more football, more reading etc.

Day 98 September 6

The day presented well, with clear skies and a steady 10 knot SE breeze, perfect for a crossing over to Dirk Hartog Island. We got organised and were in the water by 9:30.

The trip over was excellent. We could have sailed all the way but elected to use the motor to help for about 4 miles while the wind was down. We sailed non-stop to the Homestead, using the calm of the passage through Heirisson and Bellefin Banks to make and eat lunch.

Once past Bellefin Bank, I put out a large blue Halco Laser lure. We didn't have long to wait, with a strike soon after. I assumed it would be a mackerel, but it felt different, with lots of head shaking a deep powerful fight. I started to worry about losing the fish without identifying it, something I really hate. Eventually, a silver shape appeared out of the depths, a beautiful yellowfin tuna around 25-30 pounds. It was cleanly hooked and with a bit of swimming alongside the boat quite capable of heading off to fight another day.

A yellowfin tuna

Anchoring on the Homestead Coral produced some small black snapper a little else so we decided to motor in to the shallow corals for a snorkel. We got a little over enthusiastic and hit a bombie pretty hard, enough to bring us to a halt and sit hard aground. Checking the keel, we found that it was not full wound up so we had something to play with and managed to get off without throwing over any cannon.

Christine spied some tailor in the shallows so I grabbed a flick rod and a purple Barra Mauler lure. I only managed one wind of the reel before a lovely kilo sized tailor hit. Second cast and same thing. These would be tea.

We snorkelled, disappointed with the lack of variety after some of the displays we have seen further North.

We sailed North to Notch Point, anchoring up in very shallow water right on low tide. As darkness set in, a few crabs appeared and I managed to grab three just wading around with a glove on. The menu was improving by the minute.

A couple of nice tailor from the Homestead Patch

Day 99 September 7

After breakfast, we motored through Tetrodon Loop, a beautiful though rather shallow waterway. Reputed to be good fro crabs, we were on the lookout and saw numerous blue mannas, though another month of growth was probably needed.

With the wind still light, we motor sailed up to the Egg Island Coral to fish. The tide was due to change so I expected something good. The first cast just kept going as a large pinky grabbed the bait. For a while, I had a perfect score with 4 casts and 4 nice snapper. Then the small ones stratd to get annoying. In around half an hours fishing, I had caught and released at least 8 good sized snapper. With more tailor in the fridge, we didn't need to keep any.

The next stop was Quoin Bluff. I was keen to revisit a small group of bombies on the North side that had proved so productive back in April. In particular, the shoreline rocks housed some of the biggest mullet I had ever seen. We both donned the snorkelling gear and went over the side. Two things hit me, the fantastic clarity and the intense cold. For some reason, it was much colder than the Homestead Coral only 5 miles South.

The fish were amazing. This is the home of the largest bream that ever lived. I'm sure that they would have to revise the records if there was any way of catching these fellows. The trouble is, most of the fish live under ledges and in canyons, beyond the range of line fisherman. The mullet were there too, a large school of good sized fish (with a few tailor for company) and another group of 5 monsters. I reduced this to 4 with a handspear and took two of the others, giving us fresh mullet as well as tailor. I cleaned them while Christine cooked up the crabs for lunch. It's a hard life.

We sailed on, through the clear waters of Herald Bay and North to Louisa Bay. The water abounded with dugong, more than we've ever seen in one area. Further to seaward, numerous humpback whales kept up an amazing display of leaping, head-standing and crashing around. Our destination proved a disappointment, with no apparent anchorage and the reef marked on the chart seemingly non-existent.

With the clouds building and rain visible to the South, we began the 6 mile beat back into the wind to Quoin Bluff. The wind was now gusting to fresh and threatening to get worse. By the time we finally made a safe anchorage at the Northern end of Herald Bay we were very cold and "buggered".

As I type, Christine is cooking tea, barbecued tailor and mullet, with pineapple and rice. This follows our earlier snack of huge fresh rock oysters. On a low tide, this place has the biggest and the best.

Day 100 September 8

100 days (more or less given the mistakes I've made with the date). It's certainly been all that we expected.

We awoke to a light Easterly and the threat of rain gone. Lacking an extended weather forecast, we decided to use the current good weather to cross Denham Sound, through Bar Flats to anchor in Big Lagoon for the night.

The 20 mile trip was uneventful, a light wind allowing pleasant motor sailing. We made Bar Flats by noon and anchored up on coral rubble on the Southern end in about 18' of water. It looked like excellent snapper country and it was. Big snapper were on the bite and there were no small ones to steal bait. I caught and released at least 10 in about half an hour. We moved on to the main coral and Christine cooked up some wonderful mullet and toast.

After lunch, with the breeze freshening from the South, we headed off for Big Lagoon. We estimated that we would arrive at 3:00pm and have just enough tide to make the entrance. We judged things well, scrapping bottom at several points before finally reaching the inner channel and anchoring up for the afternoon and night.

Day 101 September 9

The weather was calm, with a glassy sea so we motored the 6 miles back out to Bar Flats, the idea being to catch a load of snapper to take in with us. Dawsons arrived around the same time as we did.

Fishing is fickle. Yesterday I couldn't help but catch big snapper. Today, they ran in the 40-45 cm range, good sport fish but not legal size. I caught one of 60cm and another about 46 cm before we packed it in and set sail for Denham in a strengthening Northerly breeze.

By the time we reached port, the wind was fresh and its direction made coming alongside the jetty and retrieving the boat a difficult task. I swore a lot and resolved to once again write to the Council protesting the lack of good boating facilities for tourists.

Day 102 September 10

Most of the day was spent in recovery mode. Once ashore, it's amazing how tired you suddenly feel. The world still rocks for half a day or so. We rested, did some routine maintenance and went for a few walks.

Days 103 to 124 - September 11 to October 1

As we got fully into Shark Bay holiday mode, the diary seemed to cease. We really enjoyed these last few weeks in the Bay and had some terrific sailing, with one trip out through Useless Inlet to South Passage and a number of day trips out fishing. Even the frequent periods of unkind weather didn’t worry us and we spent a lot of time walking, playing tennis and meeting others as they came and went from the caravan park.

Mum and Dad came up on a quick tour with Kerry Blakemore (Support Tours) and we met them for a meal down at Nanga. Mum even went out on the Aristocat at Monkey Mia and thoroughly enjoyed it.

We discovered a few new fishing spots, including one South of No27 in Useless Inlet and revisited the marks I recorded when I caught the snapper on a lure during the trip North.

Here we enjoyed the best snapper fishing we have ever had, with large pinks hitting lures, jigs and even bare hooks. We fished it twice, catching our limit in short time on both occasions. When Bill arrived for the school holidays, the Dawsons fished it with 9 on board, catching their 36 in no time at all. It was a great end to a fabulous holiday.

A nice pink snapper from the hot spot.