Next stop after our ‘run-in’ with Purnululu National Park was Fitzroy Crossing. A small town with a mostly indigenous population, set on the banks of the (you guessed it) Fitzroy River. The river is actually one of Australia’s largest, and it often floods extensively in the wet season. The fact that there was no decent place to cross the river in flood is why the town was initially built. Being the end of the dry season when we were there, it was hard to imagine the place in flood. The bridge that crosses the so-called ‘river’ on the way into town was a good 30-40 metres above ground, and we were told the flood waters sometimes cover this bridge. Another mind boggling indication of how much water flows around northern Australia in the wet season.
For us it was a chance to stay in a comfortable caravan park for a few days, re-charge, de-dust and get set to push onto the west coast. We had grand plans to see Winjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek from here as is the common thing to do, but we felt we couldn’t push the kids onto another all-day, bumpy off-road adventure just yet. Maybe we need to toughen up, but we decided to settle for a sunset cruise on the more accessible Geike Gorge instead. While not quite the grandeur of Katherine, the fascinating and intricate limestone formations of this gorge were certainly worth the price of admission. And the close-up freshie spotting definitely kept the kids entertained.
Our next stop was the iconic tropical seaside town of Broome, where we planned to set up camp near the equally iconic Cable Beach for 10 days. I think we all gave a collective sigh of relief as we rolled into town. It is hard to put our finger on exactly why, but we suspect it was a combination of reaching an ‘actual’ town bigger than a handful of people, surviving the dusty ruggedness of the Kimberleys and finally reaching the west coast – a fair achievement when you look back at the map of our very wide brown land. There also seems to be some sort of intangible calming effect of being near the ocean, and Cable Beach is not a bad ocean outlook to stumble upon after 2000 km’s or so of dusty, remoteness. But perhaps the biggest reason for rejoicing was the impending arrival of Kass’ mum who was to travel with us for the next six weeks. Both our kids adore their Nanna Boo and she would play a valuable third fiddle in keeping them happy little campers.
We managed a fair bit of relaxing in Broome, with a great couple of mornings just on the beach, enjoying the white sand and warm turquoise water. Another activity we managed on more than one occasion was watching the sun sink into the ocean, something that never seems to disappoint here, day after day. On other days Matt finally managed to try his hand at stand up paddle boarding, we searched for dinosaur footprints, took a sunset humpback whale cruise, and ventured on the obligatory Cable Beach camel ride.
Broome also seems to be a little mecca for photographers; and with good reason. The variety of surrounding landscapes, each with their own vivid colour scheme, all within a few hundred km’s of town, is quite amazing. Broome has also taken the prize of the friendly photographer, as we had a number of meetings with people keen to chat about all things photography. We were also fortunate enough to meet face-to-face with two impressive local pro’s who were only too happy to take the time to discuss the Austockphoto concept with us, and were able to provide some invaluable advice from the perspective of the contributing artist. Thanks Mieke and Nigel for helping us to put things in place to make this project even better – we hope to cross paths with you again somewhere on the road.
For two nights while in Broome we parted company with our caravan and made the off road trek into the Dampier Peninsula. The area is known to the local indigenous people as Ardi, meaning heading North, which indeed we were. It was an amazingly red, dusty drive for the first 80 km’s or so, after which the road is paved. This seems a strange way to do things, but the paving of the northern end of the road is so that the locals can still get around and tourism doesn’t grind to a total halt in the wet season. We also suspect it might be to make the area less accessible and maintain some mystique about the region, which it has by the bucketfull. We stopped in the Aboriginal community of Beagle Bay on our way north, a town that was established as a Catholic mission by Trappist Monks in about 1890. It is best-known now for it’s Sacred Heart church, a quaint, whitewashed little building from the outside. But step inside and you find an amazingly tranquil place, complete with an aquamarine colour scheme and a breathtaking alter intricately decorated with pearl shells.
Following this little pitstop, it was on to the northern tip of the peninsula known as Cape Leveque, where we were staying at the very popular Kooljaman Safari Camp. We were greeted by a simple, quaint log cabin only a stone’s throw from the water. Kooljaman really is set on an incredible landscape, with bright ochre red cliffs, perfect yellow sandy beaches, and brilliantly turquoise water. Kooljaman has been a flagship for indigenous owned and run tourism, and if you pay it a visit I’m sure you would also get the distinct feeling that it is a pretty special place.
While there we were lucky enough to take part in a 4WD tag along tour with one of the original indigenous board members at Kooljaman, Brian Lee. This was all going well until we got bogged on one of those ‘perfect’ sandy beaches. After spinning the tyres in all directions, Brian laconically wandered over and said ‘ya better give us a go mate’. This was music to Matt’s ears as he gladly hopped out and watched Brian reverse back out of trouble then fang the Jeep full bore up the sandy hill like a pro, complete with 2yr old son and mother-in-law still inside! Following this excitement we learnt about the history of the area and the resort, threw a traditional fishing spear, tried our hand at modern fishing and swam at some amazingly pristine beaches. The finale was when Brian cooked the mud crab and fish that were caught during the day on the open fire.
All-in-all we loved our time in this north-west corner of our country and can’t recommend it highly enough. It was especially nice to be able to stay put in one place for more than a few days in Broome; the first time that we had had this luxury since Darwin. But it was time to hook up and start heading south once again. There was a long stretch of Western coastline ahead and plenty of adventures to be had along the way.