At this point, my journey west pretty much over, really. There isn't a lot more west left to this beautiful continent now, is it? Technically, of course, we still have Steep Point, which is maybe a hundred K's further westward on the map... but I don't think I'd like to go that far just yet. Probably it's time to turn back east; and to that end, I turn on the Great Eastern Highway towards the town with a romantic name of Southern Cross.
I take my sweet time with waking up and having breakfast and packing stuff, and it's almost midday by the time I take off and head out towards Perth. Well, astronomical midday, anyway: the clock only says “half past ten”. I already mentioned the weird Western Aussie time, didn't I?
A place called Fernhook Falls is very close and is a natural destination for this morning. It's nice and warm and cloudy: perfect conditions for forest photography. The falls themselves are practically non-existent at this time of year, but I'm having a nice time just walking around the pools and taking random snaps. It's very quiet and relaxing out here, anyway.
Time to visit Albany now, along with the adjacent Torndirrup National Park. I already have the three-week pass for all parks, so I don't have to pay for anything now. Although I would, because the place certainly has plenty of breathtaking views to spare: from tall rocky cliffs to rolling hills and blue sea as far as the eye can see. And there's a fair bit of clouds, too, which both makes for softer light and lower temperatures. Win-win!
Funny thing: when you're driving on bitumen, you're kinda eager to get off it, because all the scenery is usually not there. And when you're out there on the dirt, you're very keen to go back on the bitumen, despite all the scenery, because of all the bumps and corrugations and shaking that your vehicle has to endure. Or maybe it's just me, I don't know. Either way, for my route back to the highway I pick the Lake King – Norseman road, of which I know nothing about, but it goes through mostly the same kind of area as yesterday's wonderfully scenic track, so maybe I'll be able to steal some nice shots there as well?
After some consideration, I set my sites on a route with a rather flamboyant name of The Granite and Woodlands Discovery Trail, which is just a fancy name for a stretch of unsealed road between Norseman and Hyden. And near the latter I also have a chance to visit the famous Wave Rock as well. Sounds like a plan, I say!
In the morning, as soon as I wake up, I grab my camera and venture out in hope of some more excellent photos. Perhaps, there's still a few more of those amazing clouds that I witnessed yesterday? And there sure is. A wonderful sunrise greets me as I look for all kinds of compositions here and there, and even some poor animal's skull nearby finds its place in my image collection.
The morning in the Wolfe Creek is warm, quiet and sunny. It's “summer” up here in the North, after all, and it's going to stay like this for the next few months. Not for me, though; my journey takes me away from these lands of spinifex and boabs and back to the winterlands.
With the Mornington now out of the way, I’m quickly approaching the other end of the Gibb River Road, and the last major stop on the way is the Windjana Gorge. On my way there I, as everyone else who travels these parts, notice a giant cliff next to the road shaped like a giant head: Queen Victoria’s, as the its name suggests. I’m not very familiar with the lady herself, though, so I can’t appreciate the similarity, if it does indeed exist.
After a chat with the mechanic, I’m slightly more relaxed about the leak, so I decide not to cut my trip too short and visit the nearby Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary as well. Galvans Gorge is just a quick stop on my way there, and it’s very pretty, too.
Before going to bed, I cut the top off a plastic bottle and put it under the car, where the coolant keeps dripping. In the morning, the bottle is already half full. Damn. Well, at least I get to put back in what's already out. Can't do that while I'm driving, though.
In the morning, I head over to the mechanic’s just before the opening time and start waiting. Twenty minutes later I begin to realise that something’s wrong: no one’s around yet, and the entire area looks like it’s been wiped out by a plague. I mean, it’s a small town, but on a Monday morning? I quickly check with Google, and…
Given that I’m still here, and the park pass gives me a few more days of exploration, I decide to visit a couple more places around El Questro—after topping up the coolant, of course. I head over to the 4WD Blanco trail, but even at the very beginning it looks way too intimidating: giant rocks all over the place, etc. Would be nice to improve my off-road driving skills… but probably not with an already leaking radiator (again, if that’s what it is). Some other time.
The night at El Questro was quite warm and pleasant. There was also a live music event of some sort: in the restaurant, a guy with a guitar and a hat was singing songs about red dirt and tool sheds much to the enjoyment of the crowd. Good thing that I camped far enough from all the noise.
I start my day at 6 in the morning (NT time? WA time? Who knows?) to drive a little further into the park and take another scenic walk, called Jarnem. No one’s around at this early hour, except for a couple of tradies who do some maintenance work at the campground.
In the morning I leave The Bungles: there’s still plenty to see outside this undoubtedly phenomenal place. On my way out I meet another 5 or 10 cars going in: poor people are driving straight into the morning sun and dust. It’s so much more rewarding to travel this road eastwards a bit later in the day, like I did.
Well, now that I’m in the Bungles at last, time to take a closer look at it, right? As the dawn breaks, I prepare my backpack and promptly drive towards the southern section of the park, to marvel at all the goodies before other walkers and hikers swarm all over them.
I start my day of driving very early, at 6:15… but only because I switched the clock at last, and everything happens 1.5 hours earlier for me now. As I open and close one of the gates, I spot a dingo watching me from the distance: it's the first one I see in the wild! I try to take a picture, but it quickly scoots away. Maybe it’s just a feral dog, anyway.
In the morning, when I crawl out of the tent, all tired and grumpy after a lousy night's sleep, I find out that the garbage bag that we forgot to lock inside the car was discovered by ants, and they ate a huge hole in its bottom. No other option but to put the damaged bag into another bag and throw it in the car as is, with the remaining ants. Soon the ants escape the bag and scout the Tucson's interior, and during the day we will entertain ourselves by spotting and killing them one by one.
The night in the presence of cargo ships and busy waterfront brings no relief whatsoever. Too humid and too sweaty, and the street light two metres away doesn't help either. Is every night in these high latitudes going to be like this? Hopefully not.
If down south, in Walpole, I could see my breath in the morning, and if in Geraldton it was around 18° at this time of day, then here it's already 27°. We move closer and closer to the northern heat with every kilometre. As the dawn breaks, the sandflies awaken too and begin to buzz annoyingly next to our faces. Are they really trying to bite us, or they just do it for fun? Avoiding them as much as we can, we have a quick breakfast, jump into the car and drive away.
The night is warm and quiet, and the sleep is great; when we wake up, we are greeted by numerous birds in the aviary nearby: just a patch of grass surrounded by a mesh fence with perches and troughs, a perfect place for dozens of parrots, canaries and other colourful creatures. After having our breakfast and packing up our camp (feels a bit odd when two people now do it instead of just one), we take off.
In the morning Alen feels much better and says that he's ready to go. During a brief visit to the dentist we find out that nothing serious has happened with his tooth, and that it will get well on its own. Nothing to stop us anymore, then.
From Walpole, I finally begin my way up north. The morning highway leads me through the dense gum forest, where I overtake the lumber trucks every now and again. The road dips, rises and turns left and right constantly. The thick forest is full of pockets of warm and cool air; the windshield gets misty all the time, and you can never tell whether it's from the outside or the inside. Never saw that before. Go and try to see something on the road while you're negotiating a sharp bend and the morning sun hits your eyes, and the next second the windshield is so misty that you can't see a thing, and you don't even know what to turn on to clean it: the wipers, or the air con! Very unnerving. But the road is very beautiful nonetheless.
An unpleasant surprise in the morning: drizzling rain, which appears to have started during the night. Things left outside are completely wet, of course, but I'm only worried about the cooker. Just in case I evacuate it inside the tent and dry it carefully with a towel. Due to bad weather, I decide to skip the hot breakfast, and after a few snacks I start to pack up under the drizzle. Not a very exciting procedure, but what can you do.
I slept wonderfully. However, the warm and windless night resulted in thick dew all over the tent. I have to wrap it wet, and after that my hands are all covered in red sand. Still, I'm quite happy and excited. Even despite these little shortcomings and occasional panic attacks, it's still very beautiful around, and my journey is going exactly as planned.
Sleeping amongst the dunes turned out to be a lousy idea. It's quite chilly, and the moisture gets condensed on the inner walls of the tent; with each gust of the cold wind the tent shakes, and the water drips on my face. Once again I wake up before dawn and spend the rest of the night sitting in the car and shaking in cold. No more camping next to the sea!
Alright, so what I can say in the end? In the end, the trip was excellent. I have visited every place that I wanted to visit, and I've seen everything that I wanted to see. Even despite all that dirt driving, the car is still in one piece (except for that bloody mud guard and those lights): kudos to the Japanese automotive industry.
Tropics are well behind me now, sadly, and the night on the rocks turns out to be quite cold. Something has to be done about it. I make myself some hot tea to warm up, then pack up my bags and start my way due south, where it's going to be even colder. Australian winter is coming.
In the morning I try to pay a few visits to local mechanics for an oil change. Of course, everyone is booked out for today, just like in Tom Price a few days back. Fair enough. I leave Carnarvon unserviced to visit two more national parks and dive for the last time into the Pilbara wilderness.
After an excellent night's sleep on my new pillow, I begin to explore the Millstream part of the park. This was a cattle station once, but the state bought it later and opened to public. The Fortescue River flows through it, quite peaceful at this time of year.
Next to the campground there is another ravine, called Dales Gorge. At the first rays of sun, while no one else is there, I head straight towards it. Unfortunately, the first rays of sun also make it quite difficult to take good pics. And the gorge itself, although undeniably beautiful, doesn't really say anything new after those that I've seen yesterday.
In the morning, as I leave Marble Bar, I hit the dirt again. I have misgivings about that after the somewhat uncomfortable ride to Carawine Gorge, and I'm tempted to modify the route and take a detour via Port Hedland; but the moment of weakness passes soon. Gotta be in it to win it.
The further north I drive, the more mining activity around I see. Thanks to the mining companies, the roads here are of excellent quality, and most of them are pretty new. They have also built all those long railroads, leading straight to Port Hedland, whence all this ore is shipped all over the world.
A large body of water nearby makes the night a lot warmer than out in the desert, and I sleep wonderfully. Back in Leonora, I turn right and head northwards now. It's quite cloudy (for the first time in 5 days), but it doesn't rain thankfully.
As I've already mentioned, there's another famous place next to the world-famous Uluru, and it's called Kata Tjuta. It means “many heads” in Aboriginal language, which sums up its appearance pretty good. As opposed to a monolith which is Uluru, Kata Tjuta is a whole set of enormous sandstone boulders, looming up quite impressively on the horizon. This is where I'm going today.