Y2K Off Centre Run Part 5

Monday 21st August. I say goodbye to the others and head south after a great relaxing week. Leaving at 7:40 I arrived in Port Hedland before 2pm. The thing to come to grips with up here is the vast distances to travel with no stops and little in the way of scenery. The first stop was Sandfire roadhouse which was 320km from Broome! You want to make sure you have enough fuel and water to do these stretches! The next stop is Pardoo roadhouse, then into Port Hedland. I had planned to stay here, but the sight of another huge mining port was not to my liking, so after taking a photo of a 100 car ore train with 4 diesels, I headed further west to Port Samson.

On the way I pulled into Whim Creek on Chick's recommendation, and this little roadhouse/pub was an interesting stop. The pub has been at least partly demolished by cyclones (last one in 1999) and the bar resembles a museum to the events. Behind glass were letters from people who at one time or other had visited or stayed there, who having heard of the pub's plight had sent letters, cash and cheques offering support. The cheques and cash are still behind glass, and seems to give the pub a much nicer feel for it. Well worth a visit.

Port Samson had been recommended to me by another traveler, and although a little off the beaten track the trip is more than worth it. This little village is right on the coast north of Roebourne and east of Karratha facing north onto the Indian Ocean. On arrival at the camping area I was asked if I had booked. Yeah, right! Seems this little idyll is a popular haunt for Perth escapees during the winter and they had no room. When I explained that I only needed a small plot I was able to squeeze in. The pub and seafood restaurant were right next door - great spot.

With yesterday being an 850km day, I was pleased to have a look around at a slower pace today. Close to Port Samson is the historic town of Cossack, once a pearling town until the port silted up and then abandoned in 1910. The pearlers moved to Broome and the rest is history. Took a run out to Dampier and Karratha which is about 60km away. Red ore rocks of all sizes scatter the country and it appears harsh. Karratha is a sprawling town and uninteresting but although Dampier is a mining port, it is much more beautiful. Due to the strong onshore winds whipping up the spray, I was unable to see the beauty of the Dampier archipelago, but I'm assured it is a great sight. Back to Port Samson for a relaxing afternoon.

The road to Millstream NP Wittenoom - scary stuff!

Wednesday 23rd August. Overnight the heavy onshore winds made me decide to move inland for some respite. Rode through Millstream NP, stopping at Python Pools. The dirt road (290km) was well graded, probably as it is used by the mines (Hammersley Iron). Took the road towards Wittenoom which now resembles a ghost town although there were still a couple of hardy souls braving the elements of its asbestos mining past. Large signs warn of the still present dangers of asbestos fibres, and I must admit noticing a different smell in the air for a distance of 50km from here. Over to Auski roadhouse on the Newman road for fuel, then round to Karijini NP. There was a $3 park entry and a $10 camping fee so I elected for just one night at the moment. I went to Fortescue falls, the only permanent falls in the park, then circular pools before heading west to the camping area. Pretty basic with pit toilets, gas BBQ's and no garbage bins. No grass either, so you have the choice of camping in spinifex (and turning yourself into a pincushion!) or that wonderful red dirt.

Thursday 24th August. Well I managed to escape the winds of the coast, but the desert managed to serve up some negative temperatures last night. I was up as soon as the sun took a nip at the tent to get some extra warmth. A quick breakfast and I was packed and ready to roll even before the 4WD Terry Tourist's had even rolled over for a second time. I explored the Karijini gorges in the fullness of the morning - these immense ravines seem to appear out of nowhere and are awesome. More time could be spent here walking to the bottom and really getting into it, but I was on the move again.

Tom Price is a clean town which belies its mining background. Through to Parabadoo, filled up with go-juice as I intended to open the taps hard between here and Nunatarra roadhouse. The landscape on this road (we are now in the Pilbara) could easily be used in a "bad lands" western movie. Although the Kimberley region is more famed, the Pilbara is by far more interesting to travel through, although I have now forgotten how to handle corners! Parabadoo to Nunatarra = 272km = 2 hours. Why not!

This is just another roadhouse though, and I am looking for something a bit more substantial, so it's off to Exmouth. The Exmouth peninsula takes some time for you to experience, as it takes forever to see the sea on both sides, even though it can be smelt for miles before. Plenty of good camp areas here, and at $7.70 with a camp kitchen and soft grass is a far cheaper option than the National Park.

Friday 25th August. Left around 9am to explore Cape Range NP north and west of Exmouth. On Cape Murat is the Harold E Holt VLF transmitter, the biggest of its kind in the world, used for submarine communication. It is like a scene out of a spy movie, with the centre mast a massive 1271ft high, the others arranged in a neat geometric pattern around it only slightly shorter. The lighthouse near here would have prevented many wrecks off this coast had it been built earlier. There is a lengthy reef (Ningaloo) which has brought many unsuspecting seafarers unglued. I headed south through Cape Range NP ($3 entry) as far as I could on a sensational piece of road. At the end is a creek which can be crossed at low tide and a round trip made.

I was not there at the correct time, so I traversed my steps checking out most of the coastal access and camping areas. Toilets are the only provisions here (you need everything from water upwards) but it is an ideal bush camp in idyllic surroundings. I then retraced my steps back to Exmouth, then a lazy pace down to Coral Bay. A very small but adequate township comprising 3 caravan/camping area, a pub and 2 general stores with fuel. Oh, and of course I should mention one of the prettiest beaches inside the reef I had seen. Reef viewing and diving tours seem to be doing a roaring trade, and after a brief swim I was lucky enough to catch up with a feeding display on the beach. The fish were at least half a metre long and incredibly tame - no wonder there were so many boats here. Good camping area, very mild night.

Saturday 26th August. A late start as I was only planning to get to Carnarvon today, leaving at 9:30, then fuelling at the busiest roadhouse I had seen so far - Manilya. Pushed on to Carnarvon, where I was able to buy Premium Unleaded for the first time since leaving Port Augusta, improving the bike's performance no end. I saw the sights of Carnarvon in about 10 minutes with the biggest thing being the one mile wharf with rail-line. I had arrived here after lunch on a Saturday and most everything was shut - reminded me of Sydney in the sixties!

No prizes for guessing!

Given the time I decided to press on for Denham (Shark Bay). The clouds were rolling in from the south and the temperature dropped dramatically. The rain came in initially as a mist then increasing intensity. I pushed on for Wooramel roadhouse and sent out a search party for my jacket liner and wet weather gear, which hadn't been used since NSW over a month before. By the time I got to Overlander roadhouse (the turnoff for Shark Bay) the rain had stopped but still looked threatening.

A bunch of about 20 Harley riders complete with Cadillac HSV (and trailer carrying swags and other gear) were assembled nearby. I wandered over to be polite and asked them where they were going. One reluctantly said Carnarvon, and I stupidly said the rain had been quite heavy in that direction. The rest of the wannabe's ignored the Beemer rider and I blasted off for Denham. I'll never know if it was my weather forecast or not but the heroes decided to follow me to Denham, blasting past in close formation on the way. In their usual style the intimidated the locals and parked on the pub verandah and generally made their presence felt. Last time I offer weather conditions to wannabe's!

I decided it was time to sleep in sheets again, so I pulled a room for $45 including breakfast at the Shark Bay Hotel, Australia's most western establishment. The heroes took off for their digs but came back later for dinner. Some of them were actually OK and I played pool with them until quite late. The others were simply stand-offish, even though they weren't part of a patched club (what is it about Harley riders?). The meals were great and the locals friendly.

Sunday 27th August. The main reason I came here was to get out to Monkey Mia and view the dolphins. I had been previously advised that the dolphins are fed at 10am, so I headed off about 9:15 for the National Park. When I paid the $6 entry fee, I was told the feeding was almost over and it was only 9:40. Turns out the feeding times are set by the dolphins, not by the feeders but I was a little disappointed by the location and decided not to hang around for the afternoon session.

Back to Denham and the Overlander roadhouse. The clouds seemed to be breaking up to the south, so I headed for the Billabong roadhouse for lunch. The surly old bastard in here wasn't interested in cash-out or purchase via EFTPOS unless I had bought fuel, so I resorted to the grub in my kit. Once again the Harley heroes roared into the pub next to the roadhouse so I left them behind. For the past week the main highway has been an unfenced road and unlike the northern part of the state where the beasts are cattle, here it's sheep and they are happy to waltz across the road when and where they please, so care is required with speed.

Just before the Murchison River the scenery changed dramatically, with fenced paddocks of lush green crops, something I hadn't seen for a month. Only 2 metres from the Murchison bridge, a full grown sow with a trail of piglets behind has about to step onto the highway from the bush and I nearly shit myself! Fortunately from here on the paddocks were fenced and on entering Kalbarri NP the wildflowers started with spectacular beauty. Kalbarri is a quiet, picturesque fishing spot which reminded me of Forster or Lakes Entrance. No rain, so back in the tent tonight.

(I later learnt that the most fertile area of Western Australia is defined by a line roughly drawn from the Murchison river on the west coast to Esperance on the south, and all the land south of here.)

Monday 28th August. Last night the wind picked up and the rain started in earnest around 2:30. Fortunately the tent held up and it wasn't too cold. There is a new road from Kalbarri to Port Gregory and along the way I checked out the "natural bridge" and "castle cove" on beautiful cliff faces. There is no wonder there have been so many ship wrecks along this coast - the onshore winds make the seas look ominous. From Port Gregory to Northampton are some great corners, then another boring road to Geraldton, although the wildflowers are spectacular. It was strange to stop at traffic lights - the last ones I encountered were in Alice Springs! Geraldton is a pleasant town with the port one street back from the main road, but this would have to be the windiest city I have seen to date.

From here to Dongara there are several convict constructed buildings, mostly now as part of new pastures, the source of some further investigation for those interested. I left the Brand Highway for the "scenic coast road" but it was nearly Leeman before you could even see the coast. Jurien was a serious fishing village, with about 20 LFB's at hardstand in the marina, and the local houses indicated this was a place of money. The new road from Jurien to Cervantes has only been completed around 2 months, and cuts off a lot of back tracking. Cervantes seems to be just a holiday town on the coast and most of the shops are only opened Thursday to Sunday. I ended up staying at the backpackers ($16.50) due to the impending inclement weather (which arrived shortly after). Why stay here? The Pinnacles are less than 20km away.

Part 6