Before leaving Yulara, I feel I should comment on the divided opinion surrounding Uluru – Ayres Rock. It is a WORLD FAMIOUS ICON, visited by large numbers of Aussies and tourists from all over the world. For tourists it is almost a rite of passage to climb the “Rock” if physically capable, because believe me, it is a very strenuous climb…..as we did it some 20 years ago, before it was frowned on.
On this trip, we did the 12km walk around the base of Uluru. There are numerous interpretive panels educating tourists about the historic use, the sacred nature, and the significance of this site to the aboriginal people. The remains of a sheltered kitchen for women, a permanent water hole to sustain life, a men’s/boys shelter as a base years of initiation and learning to achieve manhood, and more than half the track that veers maybe a km away from the base which is still regarded as “sacred” suggest that tourists have been accommodated rather than welcomed.
We left Yulara CP after a magnificent sunrise, and drove the 50km down past the Olgas to the start of the 1100km Great Central Road to Laverton in WA……another rite of passage for 4WD’ers.
You really have little idea of what’s in front of you, but we knew the first 200km to Docker River on the NT side would be rough…..and it was. We veered back and forth across the heavily corrugated track, avoiding the odd camel, and enjoyed the journey and the ever-changing scenery. We pulled off just short of Docker River to explore Lasseters Cave. Harold Lasseter supposedly discovered a rich vein of gold in this area in 1930….the legendary “Lasseter’s Reef”, but his camels bolted with all his gear and supplies, so he was unable to plot the find. He sheltered here with little food or water, but the story goes that sympathetic aboriginal people helped him attempt to walk out 140km to a relief party, but he only made it 55km before dying.
Once over the border to WA, the track improved dramatically, and it was graded dirt road, so we made it to Warburton CP for our first stop aided by the hour and a half time gain. We still had time to stop at several of the interpretive signs to soak up more of the history and geography of the track. Kurrajong trees are ideally suited to the harsh climate and were real friends to the aborigines providing shelter, food, and fibre from the inner bark for nets to catch fish and birds.
The weather forecast was for rain the following day, so we left early and decided to make it to Laverton that day. The road was really good for the most part, so we still had time to sneak into several spots off the road for a peek and a rest. One was at White Cross, in the midst of a stand of Mulga’s, where a cross made from Mulga was erected by aboriginal Christians in 1991 to remind travellers of their belief in the importance of spiritual as well as physical health. The mulga was another very important tree to aboriginals for flour from the pods, sap mixed with water to drink, honey stored by ants from the blossom, and utensils from the hard wood.
We even stopped at the Pines camp some 120km short of Laverton to remember the spot we got to on a previous crossing attempt from Laverton, before abandoning the journey due the very very rough road.
We arrived at the CP late and had a snoop around Laverton in the morning, as we had no time on our previous visit. We particularly wanted to personally thank the girls at the “I” for their help on numerous occasions over several years. We also wanted to visit the Explorers Hall of Fame at the “I”, which brings to life some of the characters of the past as they tell their stories of hardship, bravery and perseverance in the harsh and dangerous conditions that were endured by men and women in the early days of the Goldfields. From the gold rush years to the nickel boom of 1969; from early pastoral history to local flora and fauna, this fascinating overview of the region is now available to all.
Then we headed west to Leonora, where we had stayed previously, so we did a good shop and picked up some “hydration” as well, before heading north for Sandstone in the heart of the gold country. We had also stayed at Sandstone previously, but it is a really cute place with equally cute council owned CP run “properly” by caretaker Carolyn – also cute despite her years. There is little grass in Sandstone, and very few flowers, but the CP has a little of both thanks to Carolyn.
And at $10 per night unpowered with immaculate amenities (thanks to Carolyn) the park is always near full! Sandstone attracts lots of serious and not so serious gold prospectors for 8 months of the year (far too hot in Summer). It has one pub, small Council Chambers with district museum attached, and one “I”…..no groceries etc apart from a 10 sq. m room at the pub with the basics. There are no banking facilities or ATM, so all transactions are by card unless you have exact (or nearly) change. But when we arrived this time the place was crawling with police, and detectives from the major crime squad……there was a nationally broadcast missing persons alert in March: a missing lady whose husband was found dead down a derelict mine shaft 30km out of town in prospecting country…..and it was still unsolved. So we were not entirely surprised when approached by a tall young detective and his very pleasing to the eye female detective partner when we stepped out of the Cruiser in town. But he was only interested in the Tvan as he was planning outback travel for the future! Sorry, there are two other enterprises in town: a Chinese guy who bakes bread, grows veges and cooks at the CP one night a week, and part-time at the pub I think. Denni needed a trim, so went to the haircutters home and got “short back and sides”…and top for no extra…only cash here, and around $20 is enough…no extra for the goss! We needed a break, so stayed 2 nights in one of our “soul” places.
Unfortunately it rained most of the night, so our cross-country track to Meekatharra was closed when we left. The alternative was to follow the bitumen to Mt. Magnet then up to Meekatharra, all places we have been to and enjoyed previously, but necessary to get to the Great Northern Hwy which leads north to Newman, another place we hear about, so have to visit.
We were tipped off about a great free camp off the Hwy by people we met way back at Warburton on the Great Central, so gave it a go, even though it was some 15km off the Hwy…and we are glad we did.
We arrived at Newman around lunch-time the following day, took a non-power site at the CP for 3 days, and went exploring. Iron ore was first discovered by Sam Hilditch in 1957 and mining commenced in 1967 after a Comm. Govt. embargo was lifted. He is well remembered with a steel statue of him and his wife overlooking the town.
Newman is now quite a sizeable mining town, popln around 12,000, with Woolies supermarket indicating that. It is purpose built for the “world’s largest open cut mine”, Mt Whaleback iron ore mine. It has modern amenities, extensive sporting and recreational facilities, a busy airport, an exceptional “I” with very helpful staff, and expanding residential housing estates. There is also a trail of highlights to follow which includes aboriginal rock art & painting, gorges and watercourses, and the recreational lake which doubles as the town’s water supply.
But the highlight is the mine tour. The statistics are endless, but one that sticks is the railway to Port Headland, the longest privately run in the Southern Hemisphere (426km). Forget the more than 1 billion tonnes of iron ore shipped out so far in the 300,000+ tonne ships, I like the 248 carriages (each carrying 135 tonnes of ore) on each of 7 trains, 2.6km long making the 8 hour journey every day! Mt. Whaleback was originally 805m above sea level and is currently mined down to 135m, well below the water table, so they need to pump out 46million litres of water each week to keep it dry for mining!!! And guess what, the whole operation is operated by remote control from Perth!!!! Trust me, this operation has the ultimate WOW factor.
From Newman we went out back again on the Marble Bar Road 300km to Marble Bar, Australia’s hottest town. And you don’t escape the mining trucks either, on bitumen and dirt. I’m quite happy to give them all the road.
It is a small cutie of a place in the largest Shire in the world, with a roadhouse/ grocery store, elegant Council Chambers/ “I”, and of course a swinging outback pub, school, swimming pool, community resource centre, and quaint CP where we were pleased to camp under shade with OK amenities. It has a great town entrance with steel architecture, and two great lookouts over the town and surrounds, but as you would expect the highlight is the “Marble Bar” which is best left to the pics to describe.
We then travelled another 170km east into the never-never to Carawine Gorge. It is a free camp on a working cattle station I had seen in previous reading about the area and just wanted to have a look…..as you do. It didn’t disappoint, being right on a permanent waterhole with the gorge face across the water.
Then 170km back to Marble Bar passing many 4-trailer mining trucks carrying gold/copper ore from the Telfer mine, a totally fly-in fly-out operation 400km from Port Headland. We didn’t stop as the coast was calling, so another “shortcut” on reasonable dirt road amongst numerous aboriginal settlements had us at our destination of Cape Keraudran early afternoon. The park ranger was really helpful and guided us to one of the smaller campgrounds right on the beach. WE did enjoy setting up right on the rail overlooking the aqua water that WA is famous for. We just relaxed for 3 days, enjoying the warm days, long beach walks, crystal clear water, and memorable sunsets. We had planned to stay a little longer, but the sand-flies eventually won!!
So up the coast to Broome to stay with friends from our farming days at Nangiloc. They have 2.5 acres a bit out of town on the Cable Beach side, and have created a gorgeous palm shade getaway for family and friends with vans. John’s father and partner stay 3 months a year, and we had stayed in 2011 on our first big lap, but it was so much better this time.
Despite all its hype, we actually didn’t really “get” Broome on our last (flying) visit, but this time we made time to explore and appreciate the culture and soul of the town….and now we love it. The defining moment came when we went to the “Taste of Broome” outdoor Music Picture Show”. After a welcome to land from an elder, some traditional music and dance, we were privileged to experience slide show backdrop of photos of Broome’s cultural history with a musical/ storytelling extravaganza from Elder, Stephen, and Naomi Pigrim…….we bought 3 CD’s as well. Now we understand Broome’s history, the reason for so many nationalities living in harmony punctuated by pearling and WW2 bombing.
We had a sausage sizzle with John & Vanessa on Cable Beach to watch another sunset, and were treated to a fresh seafood feast by Brian & Jen at camp.
But we are only half way on our journey, so stay tuned for the last episode.