Pilbara Jewel

Handrail Pool, Weano Gorge, Karijini NP

We love all of the Pilbara region of Western Australia and different parts have different treasures but the jewel of the region has to to be Karajini National Park. We’ve visited the park several times before but it’s a place you can visit time and time again to enjoy the wonderful country, the colours, the mountains and the deep gorges.

This is an ancient land; mountain ranges have weathered down and while they are still called mountains, Mount Bruce, Mount Sheila, Mount Nameless and Mount Meharry, in other younger countries they would simply be called hills.

Precipitation doesn’t occur very often but when it rains it pours. It’s a dry country now but there are still permanent water sources and the flat red earth is cut by deep gorges. From the top you can peer down into deep canyons to see waterfalls and rock pools. Several walking trails take you down into subterranean gorges. Our last visit was nearly six years ago and while Paul still tackled some of the difficult trails on this trip I lowered the bar and settled for moderate walks (up to class 4).

The first gorge we visited this trip was Kalamina Gorge. It’s one of the most accessible gorges and while not as dramatic as some we think it is possibly the prettiest gorge with some lovely little falls and reflecting rock pools. It’s in the middle of the park and on previous visits it’s been very quiet but word of its charm seems to have got out as the car park was nearly full when we arrived. We still managed to have plenty of quiet times to enjoy the beauty as most other visitors walked the gorge, possibly had a dip, and then left.

From Kalamina Gorge we travelled to our first camp at the national park campground near Dales Gorge where we stayed for three nights. The easiest entry into Dales Gorge is via a steep staircase down to Fortescue Falls. There were quite a few swimmers in the pool below the falls.

 From Fortescue Falls it is a short further walk to the idyllic Fern Pool.

Fern Pool, Dales Gorge, Karajini National Park, WA

The other entry into the gorge is via a steep path including a short ladder near Circular Pool. On our first evening we took a very pleasant walk along the rim. The late afternoon light displayed the beauty of the country and the wildflowers were a delight.

Circular Pool was closed due to a recent rock slide but the path through the gorge was still open and was a great walk on the next day.

About 50 km west of Dales Gorge several gorges meet and provide some of the most spectacular scenery in the park. We moved camp to best appreciate these places and spent the next three nights at the Karijini Eco Retreat. We stopped to enjoy the view at the lookout over Joffre Gorge and Paul returned there for some pre sunrise photography the next morning,

Joffre Gorge, Karijini NP, WA

The landscape and vegetation in this region is amazing and we never tire of it, especially when the sun is just rising or getting low and providing extra drama.

Weano Gorge with Handrail Pool at the end of the accessible area provides amazing rich colours

Another amazing gorge to visit is Hancock Gorge and at the end of a very tricky walk you reach the magical Kermits Pool where light bounces off red and gold walls to create magical waterfalls.

Before leaving Karijini we had one more stop. Hammersley Gorge is on the western edge of the park and has some amazing rock formations we have photographed in the past, This time we hoped to see the Spa Pool, a spot we had missed on previous visits. We reached the bottom of the gorge not long past sunrise and Paul began the scramble up the gorge toward the spa. I decided it was too tricky for me and picked my way up the rocky sides to a spot above the spa. From there I could see we had picked the wrong time of the day to visit as it was half in deep shade and half in strong sun.

Paul had a far more difficult trek to reach a spot where he made the same conclusion. Guess you can’t win them all. Anyway Paul managed a lovely shot of one of the small water falls and I enjoyed the amazing curves in the rocks.

If you have never been to Karijini you should put it on your bucket list and if you’ve only been once or twice or for just a short time it is certainly worth a return visit.

Coastal paradise

Ningaloo Reef in Cape Range National Park, Western Australia

Ningaloo Reef should be on the must visit list for everybody travelling in Australia. It stretches for more than 200 kilometres down the west coast of the continent from the North West Cape above Exmouth to Red Bluff not far north of Carnarvon. Much of it is a marine park and there are plentiful and beautiful fish and corals which can be seen by snorkelling straight off the beach. 

We’ve visited the reef, staying in the Cape Range National Park, on every previous visit to the west and this year was no exception. Bookings in the park can be hard to get, especially in the prime season from mid May when the Whale Sharks arrive until late September when the temperatures and the winds are both rising. Apart from odd days here and there the campsites are usually filled as soon as bookings open 6 months in advance. This year all bookings were cancelled when national parks closed when the covid restrictions were enforced and then reopened when the restrictions were eased. We were lucky, and quick, enough to get a two week booking in a small camp ground near two of the prime snorkelling spots. 

On the afternoon before our booking commences we reach the eastern side of the national park and took the road up to the top of the range next to Charles Knife Canyon. There’s no camping allowed but we find a spot to stop where we can set up late and pack up early and Paul can take some sunset and sunrise photos. 

After the photos were taken we stopped in Exmouth to make sure we had enough supplies for two weeks and our gas and water were full then drove around to the coast on the western side of the range. We set up camp on our site in North Mandu Camp, taking the camper of the back of the Ute and putting out our big awning and all our mats and got ready to enjoy two weeks of paradise. The weather was warm to hot, winds variable but only ranging from calm to moderate, and only a couple of days with clouds.

Days were spent snorkelling, swimming, walking in Yardie Gorge and relaxing in camp. The Yardie Gorge walk is not terribly long or difficult with only a couple of slightly tricky descents into gullies and there are some lovely views along the way and at the end. Paul also visited Pilgramunna Gorge at sunset one evening.

The beach in front of our camp was rocky and there was a southerly drift so our favourite swimming spots were Sandy Bay about 10 km south or Turquoise Bay a few km north. Turquoise Bay is also one of the prime snorkelling spots with either a relaxing swim and snorkel in the quiet bay or a snorkel on the other side of the point where the current allows you to drift over wonderful corals and colourful fish.

The best snorkelling however was at Oyster Stacks. These are only about a kilometre north of our camp and there is a significant southerly drift so we could walk up the beach over the rocks and enter the water and just drift back to camp. We had some days of great visibility and the coral is truly remarkable. It’s a fish sanctuary zone and they are prolific with amazing colours and shapes. We also spotted several rays and a turtle.

After our wonderful days we would usually sit at the top of the beach to watch the sun set into the ocean and chat with the other campers. Truly paradise.

Sunset from the top of North Mandu Beach, Cape Range National Park

The Red, Red Dirt of Home

Kennedy Range NP

If you travel in outback Australia the red dirt, which blankets much of the interior of this country, invades your vehicle and, no matter how well you clean your car, you will still be finding pockets of red tucked into crevices and hinges for years to come. The red dirt settles into the blood and soul of some people and I’m happy to be one of them. 

For many years I relished city and urban life then grew to love living surrounded by bush or near the ocean. I still love the bush and the beach and the occasional visit to the big smoke but if I’m away from the red dirt for too long I get a yearning to return.

Winter is the easiest time to travel in the outback when temperatures are more comfortable. Our last few winters have been spent either overseas or on the east coast so as covid restrictions eased and we were allowed to travel within Western Australia my first request was to head inland, camp in the bush and enjoy a good campfire, and see some of that red, red dirt.

Kennedy Range National Park is a couple of hundred kilometres inland of Carnarvon on the west coast of Australia. Rather than follow the highway up from Geraldton where we had spent the covid lockdown period we drove inland and travelled for two days along mainly dirt roads through the tiny settlements of Murchison and Gascoyne Junction. Traffic was scarce and it was great to be out of town and away from civilisation.

We found a pleasant overnight spot to camp at Bilung Pool. It’s a permanent water hole which was used by the early settlers and before that by generations of Aboriginals. Paul enjoyed catching the late afternoon and early morning light on the magnificent white gums at the edge of the pool.

We reached Kennedy Range by the middle of the next day and found several other groups in the Temple Gorge camp ground. The range is an eroded plateau and the camp and most walks are at the base of spectacular cliffs that rise 100m above the plains. The best way to appreciate the range is from the air and Paul flew the drone early in the morning, well away from camp, and captured some of the beauty.

Some walks enter the gorges and you pick your way through the rocks and admire the formations and patterns in the gorge walls. Others take you along the face of the escarpment and past huge rocks which have fallen in years past. A Wedge Tail Eagle rode the thermal currents above us.

There are no individual fire pits at the campsites but a large communal fire was a great place to cook dinner and to sit and chat with other campers each evening. After months of travel restrictions everyone was happy to be back in the bush and the conversations, as always, turned to previous adventures and experiences and future plans. 

Farewell to the West

08 Gibb River Road (32) Pentecost River

After more than twelve months wandering up and down various dusty tracks and bitumen highways it is time for us to turn our trusty vehicles east and leave the state of Western Australia. For now that is, because, although we’ve seen quite a lot, there is plenty more to see and plenty we will definitely want to revisit in WA.

Since we crossed the state border at the end of May 2014 we have so many good memories of the areas we have visited that we can’t hope to mention them all. Favourite times for both of us include:

  • A leisurely crossing of the Gibb River Road with side trips to Mitchell Falls, Kalumburu and Mornington Station,
  • Exploring the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome and camping for a while in places like James Price Point, Whale Song and Gumbarnum,
  • Discovering rugged new country in the inland of the Pilbara at Carawine Gorge, Running Waters and Desert Queen Baths,
  • Sheltering from the wind while staying in a humpy at Red Bluff on the coast just north of Carnarvon,
  • Finding a hut in the forest near Walpole where we could hide from the summer crowds and unseasonal cold weather and spend Christmas and New Year with Paul’s son Sean, and
  • Travelling 2,000 remote kilometres through three deserts, unexpected rain and mud and across countless sand dunes along the Canning Stock Route.

Julie visited friends and family in the eastern states and spent two months in Malaysia while Paul continued the WA journey and during this time his highlights included flights in a gyrocopter over Esperance with Vince and a slow journey from Cape Leeuwin to Dunsborough finding loads of places to inspire his photographic creativity.

We’re looking forward to new adventures now but Western Australia will always be a place we’ll happily revisit.

1206 DSCN1302 Red Bluff

About Purnululu

Why Go, How to Get There, Where to Stay, What to Do

Located in East Kimberley in the far north of Western Australia between Kununurra and Lake Argyle to the north and Halls Creek and the Tanami Desert to the south, Purnululu National Park covers an area of 239,723 hectares and the Bungle Bungle Range covers 45,000 hectares of the park. Within the range are striking orange and black banded sandstone domes, 200 metre escarpments and spectacular chasms and gorges. These exceptional natural formations are the reason the park was World Heritage listed in 2003. This part of Australia was inhabited by Aboriginal people for more than 20,000 years. The first colonial exploration was in 1879 and it was followed by gold mining and later a pastoral industry which continues in the region today. While Aboriginals and pastoralists were aware of the formations, knowledge of their existence didn’t reach the broader public until the early 1980’s and tourism to the area has been growing since then.

Paul and I spent almost a week in the park when we entered Western Australia 12 months ago and we had both been twice before that but this is such a special place we couldn’t miss revisiting it while we were in the area. Travelling independently and camping in the park is the best way to experience the magic but if you can’t do that then it is well worth visiting with a tour company who have their own permanent accommodation in the park or at least taking a day trip. That can be done either in your own 4WD vehicle or on tour buses running from the caravan park located next to the highway. Many people who camp in the park stay for just a couple of nights and that length of time will allow you to visit most of the attractions and some of the walks but more time will allow you to experience it more fully.

Access is from the Great Northern Highway 269 km south of Kununurra and 108 km north of Halls Creek and is only possible during the dry season. Actual dates can vary according to seasonal and road conditions but it is usually open from 1 April to 30 November. The weather can be very hot, particularly early and late in the dry season. From the highway a 53km track passes through Mabel Downs Station to the Visitor Centre. This track is only suitable for 4WD vehicles and single-axle off-road heavy-duty trailers. Track conditions change depending on when it was last graded and what the weather conditions have been but you can expect rough sections, corrugations, dust and several water crossings. The track is not difficult if taken slowly. Reduced tyre pressure will make the ride more comfortable and can reduce the chance of punctures.

You will need to allow at least 1½ to 2½ hours for the journey from the highway but if possible allow more as it is well worth a few stops along the way to fully appreciate the scenery.
Park entry and camping fees can be paid at the Visitor Centre but pre-booking and payment for campsites can be made online and is strongly recommended in peak periods to secure a site. For more details go to http://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/campgrounds or ring the DPaW Kununurra office on (08) 9168 4200 during normal business hours. There are two camp grounds; Walardi in the southern section (generator and non-generator areas) and Kurrajong in the northern section (non-generator only).

Once at the Visitor Centre it is 27km to the Piccaninny carpark in the southern section and 20km to the Echidna carpark so make sure you allow enough fuel for travel between sites. You also need to make sure you have all other supplies you will need although untreated bore water is available from taps in the campgrounds.

The walking tracks in the park are generally rated as Class 3, easy to moderate, or Class 4, with some rough ground, but the one or two-night Piccaninny Gorge Trek is Class 6, only for fit, well-equipped and highly experienced walkers. The guide describes the first 7 kilometres as relatively difficult with it then becoming even more difficult.

Day walks include:
• easy walks of less than a kilometre around the Domes Loop or Stonehenge Nature Trail or up to Kungkalanayi, Osmand or Bloodwood Lookouts,
• two to four kilometre walks into Cathedral Gorge or to Piccaninny Lookout in the south or into Echidna Chasm or along the Escarpment in the north,
• four to five kilometre walks into Homestead Valley or Mini Palms Gorge (closed at present … July 2015), and
• a ten kilometre walk up Piccaninny Creek past the Window and into Whip Snake Gorge.

Flights over the Bungle Bungle Range provide a far different perspective and allow you to see the full extent of the range as only a small portion is accessible from the ground. You can take a helicopter or light plane flight from places outside the park including Kununurra, Warmun (Turkey Creek) and the caravan park at the turn off from the highway but for maximum time in the air over the range, flights can be taken from the airstrip located inside the park on the way to Piccaninny carpark. I’d visited the park twice before but hadn’t flown over it and on our visit last year Paul and I took a 40 minute helicopter flight. There are shorter, and cheaper, flights available but this took us right over the top end of the range to the area known as the Valley of the Giants and it was a truly wonderful experience I would highly recommend if the budget permits.

Piccaninny Creek

Piccaninny Creek

Piccaninny Sunrise

Piccaninny Sunrise

There is a straight stretch along Picaninny Creek, between the domed hills near the turn to Cathedral Gorge, where the baking sun lays bare patterns of deep runnels along the dusty creek bed. As you walk along the creek, treading as it were the exposed ribs of the earth, you might look down into the intimate shadows between the gnarly old bones. In the cool air before sunrise gentle breezes of sometimes warm and sometimes cool air flow out of the deep gorges and between the hills; the slow breathing of an ancient land before it wakes.

Here and there amongst the hollows and dips, and in the half-shadow of the rounded worry holes, lie pockets of water worn stones and polished pebbles. On the bends of the creek piles of sand and rocks are banked up along the base of the banded red and black beehive hills that are so characteristic of the Bungle Bungle Range in Purnululu National Park. This is a landscape of extremes. While it is very dry now, a torrent of water can sweep through here on its way to the Ord River which flows north to the Argyle Dam.

Piccaninny Creek

Pebbles in a Worry Hole

I am here of course for the pre-dawn light, rising at 4am and driving the twenty odd kilometres from camp, then walking a kilometre in the dark with my camera backpack and tripod. I reach the spot I have chosen in good time just as the first faint glow of dawn shows in the eastern sky. By the time a blush of colour shows in the eastern sky and on the hills, I have set up and tested the light with a first run through on the panorama I am keen to capture.

Now it’s a question of waiting for the reflected red glow on the rocks to appear when the full colour shows in the eastern sky, about forty five minutes before sunrise. For about an hour I am busy taking all the shots I can along this short stretch of the creek. The other spots I have picked out in this area will have to wait for another early morning visit.

By the time the sun has been up for half an hour the best of the light has been and gone. The rich colour in the rocks is fading and the sky is already bright with the sun casting stark shadows across the landscape.

Later that day I process several shots from the morning shoot and I’m very happy with the results and what I learnt about taking and processing panoramas. My new tripod certainly helped. Now I’m keen to do a lot more.

The Magic Continues

Piccaninny Sunrise

Piccaninny Sunrise

Purnululu National Park

As the first light of day approaches the stars fade and the sky begins the first phase of its morning colour spectrum. In the east the black gives way to a deep purple which pales to mauve then the colour passes through the northern sky to the west where it eventually fades to pale blue. Black humped silhouettes lighten gradually revealing bands of deep red and black shortly before the sun makes its appearance. When the first rays hit, the domes flash bright orange and, by the time the sky has brightened to a brilliant blue, the domes are banded orange and black with clumps of pale yellow spinifex emerging from cracks in the rocks. The palette varies, sometimes the early colour will cycle through red, oranges and yellows in the east and pinks and blues in the west but this time we are being treated to a purple Purnululu.

We arrived in Purnululu National Park yesterday afternoon and one of the joys of travelling with a passionate photographer, or should that be obsessive photographer, is crawling from my warm bed shortly after 4.00am to make the drive from the campground to the chosen morning site in time to arrive 45 minutes to an hour before sunrise. I don’t join Paul on every early morning photo shoot but although rising in the dark and cold can be challenging, the reward of watching the show is well worth the effort.

The site for this morning’s sunrise is the carpark at Piccaninny in the southern section of the national park. A number of walks start here and once the sun has risen we are heading straight to Cathedral Gorge, the most visited spot in the park. We want to reach it before the sunlight creates difficult lighting contrasts and also before it becomes busy with other tourists. It is a 1 km walk in and, as expected, we have it to ourselves for quite a while before others arrive.

After enjoying the walk between the banded domes and along the small side creek with its deep, water-gouged holes and honeycombed rocks we reach the amphitheatre. In the silence I absorb the spiritual energies of this special place with its soaring, curved rock vaulting over the rock lined pool. This place engenders the same sense of calm and peace that I have felt in some churches and in other magical places in nature.

Cathedral Gorge

Cathedral Gorge

It’s a difficult place to capture in photographs though. Trying to find a position to show the size is hard enough then add the strong contrasts between the shadowed interior and the bright colours outside and it is all too easy to end up with a washed out image which doesn’t carry the feel and the look of the place as we experience it. We easily spend more than 1 ½ hours inside the gorge and people have started drifting in, taking a look and continuing on well before we are ready to leave. Tour groups have started their daily round and one small group includes a lady who belongs to a choir and treats us to the sound of her soaring voice reverberating around the rocks as she sings ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Hallelujah’.

We finish off our morning exercise continuing our walk out into Piccaninny Creek. The wide creek bed is scored with long ridges of grey rock interspersed with collections of tumbled pebbles and small smooth rocks and the creek sides are lined with the towering domes so uniquely characteristic of the Bungle Bungles. It extends many kilometres into the range and a multi-day trek can be done by the very fit and well prepared hiker. For now we just venture a short way along the creek then along a side track to the Piccaninny Creek Lookout where we look down on a view of the white creek bed crossing a plain to another range of domes and hills. We’ll return to this area another day to venture further down the creek but after the early start it is time to return to camp for breakfast.

Piccaninny Lookout

Piccaninny Lookout

We’re camped at the southern camp ground, Walardi, while we explore and photograph the attractions at this end. Our site is on the edge of the dry bed of the Bellburn River under the shade of some beautiful white gums and with a view through the trees of a red range of hills. We are so happy with the site we decide to extend our stay and work on our photos and writing. We also need some time to rest from travelling. Paul is out before dawn for several more shooting sessions from different vantage points at this end of the national park but I’m happy to skip some and go with him another morning when we are at the other end of the park. While he is out I laze in bed, at least until 6.00am by which time the sun is shining and I have already had half an hour listening to the chorus of the birds.

On a day off from more energetic activities I take a leisurely stroll along the 1km walking track which winds along the Bellburn River and returns through the camping areas. I’ve been sitting in the shade while I’ve been working on my computer so it is lovely to have the sun on my back as I walk. The information signs along the way provide a good excuse to pause and study the features they describe as do the spectacular views along the way. A bench seat is positioned where the track has a good view of the range, perfect for sunset.

Walardi Walk

Walardi Walk

Our next walk is the ten kilometre hike into Whipsnake Gorge. Even though we’ve visited the park and this walk previously we never tire of the views. They always enchant and delight us and we appreciate just how lucky we are to have the time, resources and fitness to do what we are doing. We’re not particularly early today and other walkers pass as we stop yet again along the way to try to capture some of the magical atmosphere in photographs. It could be the curves of the rocks in the creek bed eroded by water and wind, or the colours and shapes of the domes against the brilliant blue sky, or a clump of spinifex or a gnarled tree growing from cracks in the rocks which capture our attention and every few steps the view changes.

When we eventually make it to the end of the gorge we take a break and chat with a couple who passed us along the way and are now enjoying their time in the shade and quiet. Our return walk is slightly faster but not by much. By the time we make it back to camp for lunch it is mid-afternoon and I’m famished. We decide that another day here before we move to the other end of the park is needed. It’s just as well we don’t travel to a schedule.

When we are ready to move on we drive to, Kurrajong, the northern camp ground, pick a site and then travel in the two vehicles to take the Escarpment Walk. It is 3.6 kilometre walk between the Echidna and Bloodwood carparks and with the two vehicles we will be able to walk one-way. It is an easy walk along flat ground and very enjoyable in this weather with the temperature in the mid-twenties. The path is along the base of the 200 metre high western side of the 360 million year old Bungle Bungle Range. As well as the fabulous views of the sheer walls we have a great range of trees, bushes, grasses and flowers to admire and birds to spot and, in some cases, identify.

We have a pleasant site in this camp ground. We don’t have quite as much shade but it is sufficient so we can be comfortable working during the afternoons and we can also collect more solar energy. By the time we have had another late lunch, set up camp and Paul’s work area and organised the evening meal preparations it is time to head out for the sunset photo shoot. A walking track in the camp leads to an elevated lookout with great views of the escarpment but from previous visits we know we will get an even better view from a higher spot by driving the short distance south to the Kungkalanayi Lookout.

A short walk up a hill offers some wonderful panoramic views. To the east of us the 200 metre high escarpment stretches more than 20 kilometres, to the north and south we see rounded hills covered in round clumps of spinifex, and dotted with eucalypts and to the west yet another range is silhouetted by the sun as it drops below the horizon. In between the ranges the plains are banded with the colours of blue-green and grey-green trees, yellow spinifex, red earth and red grasses and sometimes the drifting dust clouds raised by late moving vehicles. As the sun sets behind the range in the west the escarpment glows and the colours of the plains deepen. Soon after sunset, when most other people have left, we enjoy the evening spectrum in the big sky and watch the colours across the land deepen.

Kungkalanayi Lookout

Kungkalanayi Lookout

Our walk for the next day is the 4.4 kilometre walk into Homestead Valley. We delay our departure until mid-afternoon so we can stay in there until the sun sets. The track heads across the plain to the base of the escarpment then deep into the range along a rock strewn creek bed. The final short section of the track takes us to an elevated clear area where we are surrounded by towering rock faces. For the next 90 minutes we are both busy with cameras on tripods capturing, or trying to capture, the images as the moon rises, colours change and the sun sets casting its final glow through the opening of the gorge to the west. The return walk through the opening is made in the last of the daylight and then by the light of the almost full moon.

Homestead Valley

Homestead Valley

For our final full day in the park we are visiting our favourite spot in the park, Echidna Chasm. While I thoroughly enjoy seeing the banded domes of the southern section, absorbing the atmosphere in Cathedral Gorge and walking up the ever-changing Piccaninny Creek, it is here you can really feel that you are deep in the heart and essence of the range. This narrow tall chasm is ancient and peaceful. The amazing shapes and colours and the sheer mass and scale of the place are part of what makes it so magical.

Most people visit Echidna Chasm near the middle of the day to coincide with the sunlight entering the deep gorge but we leave camp at 6.00am so we can miss the crowds and capture some images without as much contrast in the light. Our plan is to spend a couple of hours here this morning then return tomorrow in the middle of the day on our way out of the park. A short side track from the carpark brings us to Osmand Lookout. A low rise puts us above the surrounding vegetation with views of the neighbouring Osmand Range and the valley running between it and the Bungle Bungle Range.

The track into the chasm starts with 700 metres of careful walking along the rocky bed of Echidna Creek to the entrance to the gorge. Tall dark green palm trees line the entrance and contrast with the bright orange vertical wall behind them.

Echidna Chasm

Echidna Chasm

Inside the gorge the track continues for another kilometre between 200 metre high walls. Much of the time the walls are less than a metre apart although there is a wider chamber in the middle. The section after the chamber includes some large boulders to be squeezed past and a couple of short sets of steps to be climbed before the gash in the range finishes abruptly with a view of the sky and a leaning palm tree directly overhead.

This place is even more difficult to photograph than Cathedral Gorge but I enjoy trying. We shift vantage points a number of times, setting up cameras on tripods and dismantling and packing everything in between so they can be carried safely. Before we know it the trickle of other visitors has built and the midday crowd is appearing. We’ve managed to spend the entire morning in here. We finish our morning seeing the beautiful colours as the sun crawls down the walls and reflects off the rocks and around bends. Guess we don’t need to come back tomorrow after all.

Echidna Chasm

Echidna Chasm

Paul has been reviewing and working with his photos while we’ve been here and has decided he’d like to return to Kungkalanayi Lookout with a different lens so he can create a panorama image of the range. I skip this visit and stick around camp and watch the sun set while I’m preparing our evening meal.

We want to leave the camp ground mid-afternoon as we saw a couple of places on our drive in from the highway that we’d like to see again in the late afternoon. This gives us time in the morning to make a slower start and for Paul to work on his panorama and me to work on my writing before we pack up.

We leave at 2.30 just as we planned and of course we should have known better than to have a plan. We’ve been through the first water crossing and as I’m slowing for the second water crossing my main brakes fail. I’m almost stopped and the car has a secondary emergency brake which pulls me up so there’s no real problem. A check under the bonnet and under the car shows the brake fluid has gone and as fast as we pour more in it comes out at the left back wheel. I’m able to drive OK so long as I travel slowly enough to stop by using the gears and I only need to use the secondary, very weak, braking system for the final stop from a crawl. It will also be best if I can minimise how much driving I need to do in the dark, especially on these winding and changeable road surfaces. There goes our plan for watching the sun set from a lookout spot we had picked out on our drive in.

We do stop for some photos a couple of times but only briefly. Nature decides to be contrary and as we drive we are treated to an absolutely beautiful sunset which flares the rocks in the east to a deep red and lights the western sky with glorious pinks and yellows. If only Paul had got these colours on his shoot last night or we had been able to stop where we planned. Oh well, just got to take things as they come, there will be more beautiful sunsets for us to share and photograph in the future.

Leaving Purnululu

Leaving Purnululu

Salt Lake Spirits

Not long ago I took a slow walk into the wide white distance, towards a floating horizon of iron red ranges suspended above the brilliant surface of a salt lake. As I walked time and place merged into a dreaming in which the past, present and future collapsed within an instant and all people from that place, alive and dead, moved in fluid groups that I could not discern, talking to each other in voices I could not hear. Soft winds blew before the dawn drawing me along paths of salt-fringed clay. Now I am far from the shores of this salt lake, the past is now and the forever future bends in broad swathes between the bands of crystals and red rocky islands.

Lake Ballard, Western Australia

Lake Ballard, Western Australia

Standing still I focus on this moment and I join the company of these salt lake spirits. They are there in the periphery of my senses. I am aware of living mass and form, movement and sound but when I turn towards them I see inert statues braced in stiff poses standing as silent sentinels guarding a spirit world.

Lake Ballard, Western Australia

Lake Ballard, Western Australia

The further I walk the softer the going. With each tentative step I carefully place each foot, judging the give and take in the brittle surface and anticipating how far my foot will sink. Beneath the salt is mud. Each time I lift a foot my boot carries another layer of mud. Every now and then I stop to scrape some off.

I am moving so slowly now that, as I pick my way across the vast flatness, it seems to me that time has stopped. I walk from sentinel to sentinel seemingly moving from the now to a future time. As I reach the next statue, standing at the intersections of a web of pathways, time shifts again and another shimmering statue beckons farther out towards that floating horizon.

When I reach each one I naturally gravitate into an orbit, watching the fall of light, changing textures and the warp of line and shadow as I revolve, a satellite to each salt lake spirit. These ‘inner beings’ stand watch under blue skies upon a mesmerising vastness of white. They are the keepers of this country and all of its stories. Perhaps they will tell me some of them and I hope I will remember.

I return across soft clay where salt crystals tinge the edge of the mud and grow, like mushrooms, in the depressions of the boot prints of the travelers who have gone before me. Along the way I walk around a peculiar conical hill which rises abruptly out of the dry lake bed with trees sprouting at strange angles out of its sides. Boulders, large and small, that have broken away and rolled downhill now litter the ground around the circular base of the hill.

Lake Ballard, WA

Lake Ballard, Western Australia

Journey to a world of ‘Inner Beings’ flung far and wide across the white salt of Lake Ballard in Western Australia. Read more about ‘Inside Australia’ and Anthony Gormley’s sculptures here.

Back to the Bush

Kalgoorlie to Wiluna

Sunset at Lake Douglas, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

Sunset at Lake Douglas, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

What a contrast! Just a few days after leaving the heat and humidity of Malaysia I’ve met up with Paul and we’re camped fifteen minutes out of Kalgoorlie in the Australian bush surrounded by gum trees. The trunks are shedding grey bark to reveal a deep russet layer beneath and under foot is the red dirt so typical of central Australia. We’re near Lake Douglas with other campers but we are tucked away down a side track and nobody else within sight of us. The colours and solitude provide an enormous contrast to the busy cities, expanses of palm plantations, lush green jungles and deep blue seas of my recent travels. I feel like I’m home.

I reached Perth on Friday afternoon after three flights and twenty four hours of travel. The trip was smooth with no delays or difficulties but it certainly was lovely to be met at the airport by my cousin Wendy and to have time to recuperate over a relaxing weekend from the last busy section of my Malaysia trip and the long journey. My car has been parked at their place for the past three months but Wendy’s husband Colin has started it regularly and it is running smoothly when I take it in for a service on Monday morning. The long and rough roads I’ve travelled over the past four years and the heavy load of the camper are taking their toll on the Hilux and some extra work to strengthen the truck is completed and more recommended before tackling the very rough Canning Stock Route. I’m impatient to get out into the bush and to meet Paul so rather than have the work done in Perth I set off early Tuesday morning for the 600 km drive inland to Kalgoorlie.

It is the following Monday before the car has the heavier springs installed but we have plenty to do in the meantime. Paul has a huge backlog of photos from his time in the south west and after three months of travelling with just a backpack I’m keen to go through my clothing and other personal items and get rid of unnecessary bits and pieces to free up more room in the camper. We also need to plan and shop for seven weeks on the road and work out how to fit everything in. I haven’t had to shop or prepare food for three months so it takes a bit of thinking to get back in gear. We are heading north from Kalgoorlie to Wiluna and only passing through a couple of small towns on the way and we could take a week to get there. From Wiluna we will be travelling almost 2,000km up the Canning Stock Route with very limited opportunity to get food, fuel or any services until we reach Halls Creek in the north east of the state. Many people spend two weeks on the Canning but we want to take our time and expect to spend four weeks at a minimum. We are also allowing an extra week for delays and I figure we always take longer than we expect so we need to allow another week, hence six to seven weeks of food and water.

Finally the car is pronounced good to go, the fridges are stocked, water and fuel tanks and extra jerry cans and water containers filled up and we are on our way.

The Goldfields Highway is our initial route north. It’s a bitumen road and we could make it to Wiluna in a day or, if we wanted to take it easy, spread it over two days. That’s not our style however and we make a couple of detours, along dirt roads of course, stretching the distance from a direct 540 km to nearly 800 km and spending seven nights on the road after we leave Kalgoorlie.

Our first stop is not far north of Kalgoorlie at a roadside rest stop and next morning we continue on the highway to the small town of Menzies. A couple of hours are easily spent here as we first enjoy a long hot shower in the caravan park then wander around the town. Interpretive panels outside the few remaining old buildings provide information about the town’s history and quotes from former residents. In addition rusty steel figures provide a glimpse of what life was like when the town had a population of 10,000 people, 3 hotels, 3 banks, 4 churches and 3 breweries. Now there is one pub which doubles as the general store, for sale if anyone is interested, a cafe, a very grand looking shire office, and a council run information centre and caravan park.

Menzies Shire Offices

Menzies Shire Offices

After lunch we start our first detour heading off the highway 50 km to Lake Ballard. It is a salt lake and the site for an art exhibit of 51 metal sculptures derived from laser scans of Menzies inhabitants. I’ve visited here twice before and still find it a fascinating place to visit and explore and Paul has been looking forward to spending time here to capture some of it in his photographs. If you would like to know more about Lake Ballard and the fascinating sculptures by Anthony Gormley click here and here. We end up staying three nights, partly because the place changes in different lights and walking far out onto the lake or up the hill in the middle of the lake provides different views and partly because the weather turns so cold I spend a day hiding from it, not game to venture far from the camper. My blood has definitely thinned and I’m not handling the cold at all well, especially after returning from hot and humid Malaysia. The sun finally makes a welcome return so I manage my walk onto the lake. On my previous visits the salt reached the near edge of the lake and was firm to walk on. The lake edges are now firm dry mud for a good distance and when the salt is reached it is sloppy underfoot but OK to walk on provided we take it slowly and carefully.

Lake Ballard, Western Australia

Lake Ballard, Western Australia

When we leave we continue our dirt road detour loop until we return, briefly, to the highway at Leonora. After a very short stop we take another dirt road loop to the other side of the highway and our next overnight stop at a place called the Terraces. Here sandstone cliffs form a ‘jump up’ running north-south and several camping spots are nestled along the base. It’s just on sunset so Paul climbs to the top to try to capture the last light while I check out the camping options. It has turned cold again and the only sighting we have of the sun the next day is for about ten minutes after sunrise. I’d love to explore this place some more but it doesn’t show off its best colours in these lights and after two nights we give up and continue up the dirt road.

Eventually we return to the highway and head into the town of Leinster for the night. A caravan park with showers and free washing machines is too good to pass up, it will be good to at least start on the Canning Stock Route with everything clean. We stick to the bitumen for our final leg of the journey to Wiluna and by mid-afternoon we are ready to start our next big adventure.