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Kylie leaves Australia

Day 48:

KLMS Travelled – 11,932

In just under 50days we’ve driven nearly 12,000km!! The journey so far has taken us across the breadth and length of Australia in what has been an incredible ‘warm up’ for our next leg across Africa. Having the opportunity to get used to life on the road has been invaluable before we hit the unknowns of Africa and despite this being the ‘easy’ part of our trip, we have learnt so much in such a short space of time. Learning how to live out of your car certainly takes some getting used to and never being more than a foot apart from each other can be testing on even the strongest relationships! However, we soon found that we naturally fell into a new routine, each of us having our own roles in the day to day set up of camp, making fires, cooking dinner, car maintenance, route planning etc. Our days were full!

As we headed into Perth, it felt strange to be breaking up the team so soon – we were really just getting into it – but our plans had always  been to hit Africa in June, so we could start the drive north through the winter (hopefully drier) months.  My parents arrived from the UK, the day we got into Perth, ready to make the most of our downtime while the car was at sea and spend two weeks touring the Margaret River with us – it was amazing to be back in the luxury of a house again, with a comfy bed, flushing toilet, hot showers…you really do appreciate the simple things in life when you’ve been camping for so long!

Most of the ‘improvements’ will be done once we get to Africa, but we installed black coreflute board into all the back windows so the car is more like a van now and will stop those prying eyes from seeing in. We also gave the car a proper clean out, washed everything and then did another cull of stuff we’ll be taking with us. Thankfully mum and bought a spare bag for us, so they could take anything back we didn’t need.

We chose CargoOnline to send the car with – their quote was much better than the others we’d seen and we knew other overlanders had used them to. They were really easy to deal with and were very patient with our questions and constant date changes! We dropped Kylie off in Fremantle, and once the rooftop tent & box were taken off we watched excitedly as she got put into her container for the long voyage. The guys at the depot thought we were pretty weird to be bouncing about taking photos – but for us it felt like waving off your firstborn on! And just like that it was done…..all seemed a little too easy???

A few days after the car sailed,  we got an email from the shipping agent to ask if the car was on a Carnet – we assumed all cars needed a Carnet, so thought it was a bit late to be asking these things! Turns out the Carnet needs to be stamped by customs before the car leaves the country?? We didn’t know it needed to be stamped out of Australia and as it hadn’t been requested we hadn’t given it another thought. Shit. Emails & phone calls were flung back and forth, but by this time it was late Friday night of the long weekend and nothing would be resolved for a few days.  At least we were in the Margaret River – a few wineries later and our minds were soon distracted! Our agent Rhys, on the other hand worked through the public holiday to ensure that we would be able to get a customs stamp retrospectively and it was a huge relief to be sent confirmation that we could take our Carnet to Fremantle customs house to be stamped once we were back in town. Phew. We now know that a Carnet has to be stamped in and out of every country – including Australia!

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Quobba (the reunion) and Shark Bay

Day 43:

KLMS Travelled – 11,840

The leaflet for Quobba Station & Red bluff had been stuck on the front of our fridge for 5 years. We met the owners, Tim & Sara during a trip to Rome in 2007 when somehow i’d managed to persuade Richard go to Italy with me, despite the Rugby World Cup being in full flow. He’d agreed to immerse himself in one of my passions, Classical history, as long we got to watch all the rugby games. During a tour of the Colosseum, Richard’s attention was soon diverted when he spotted the gleaming gold of 2 wallabies supporters – England were playing Australia that afternoon in the quarter finals and he was soon over and introducing himself, keen to know where they were watching the game. We swiftly left the tour and headed to the nearest pub, the Wallabies supporters introducing themselves as Tim&Sara from WA who’d come over for the  World Cup. They mentioned that they owned a station called Quobba and handed us a leaflet, saying if we were ever in Australia we should look them up. That afternoon the English smashed the Aussies in the quarter finals and by the look on Tim&Sara’s face we thought we’d better leave it a while before we visited. 6 years later we arrived on their doorstep!!

Quobba station is 80klms long by 15klms – stretching along the most beautiful, rugged west coast. We hadn’t timed our trip well, as Tim was heading off on a fishing trip the next day, but it was great to see them again and catch up over a beer and learning about station life and remote living.  We headed further up the property to Red Bluff – which boasts one of the best surfing and fishing spots in Aus and camped right on the beach – it was an unbelievable setting and we couldn’t believe that this was all in their ‘backyard’.  We had a couple of lazy days swimming and fishing off the beach and despite only having ‘light gear’ we still caught plenty of fish – only slight issue was the couple of sharks that were patrolling the shoreline. We tried to be brave and still go swimming and snorkeling but knowing that our toothy friends were not far away, we didn’t venture too far out!

Heading south we ventured into the Francois Peron National Park (Shark Bay) which is another World Heritage Marine Park. It gained it’s status through the it’s amazing bio-diversity including wild dolphins, rare Bilbys and the largest population of Dugongs. We saw bugger all! The  scenery was still spectacular and driving through the soft sand tracks was great fun and a great confidence boost to see what the car could do. We also gained another rescue credit, helping to pull a stranded car and trailer out of the sand as well as giving the Maxtrax another good work out. The most ridiculously expensive piece of plastic we’ve ever bought, so keen to get our money’s worth!

We can’t believe these are our last few days with Kylie – 6 weeks has gone so fast!ImageImageImageImage

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Ningaloo

Day 35:

KLMS Travelled – 10,106

The ‘Ningaloo Reef’ – we’d been dreaming of this destination for a long time and couldn’t wait to get there. The spectacular reef and its abundance of marine life earned itself a World Heritage status in 2010 so the snorkelling, combined with the prospect of finally being able to swim with Whale Sharks (which had been #1 on our bucket list for many years) meant excitement levels were going through the roof!

The Cape Range peninsular itself is pretty bleak – a sparse rocky landscape – it’s definitely what’s under the water, than what’s above it that makes this place so amazing! Exmouth, a typical cyclone prone town of unremarkable 1 storey buildings thrives off the Whale Shark tourism. Holding the monopoly over an experience that it is ‘once in a lifetime’ for many, prices are around $380 per adult!!!! It seems that ‘living the dream’ certainly comes at a price. We headed round to the National Park  and unaware of the booking system for the park campsites didn’t realise that most campsites are booked out weeks in advance.  Fortunately we managed to rock up in our usual last minute style and secure one of the last spots available at Yardie Creek – apparently the previous tenants had packed up a week early due to the strong winds. At this point, i think our over-excitement had made us oblivious to the strong gusts of wind as we were just thrilled not to have been turned away at the park gate! The weather forecast wasn’t looking great so we thought we’d sit things out for a couple of days and book a whale shark trip in for later in the week when hopefully the wind would have died down and the sea wasn’t so rough.

We set up camp for our first night at Yardie Creek and enjoyed beers at sunset with the rest of the campers onsite. The camping community is always a wonderfully random assortment of people from all walks of life – it makes for fascinating chats over sundowners. We picked up lots of great tips of where to go next as well places to avoid – as we headed back to camp the wind had really picked up and we began to wonder whether we were heading for the same fate as those who were camping here the night before. The wind got stronger and stronger throughout the night and trying to sleep was impossible – being in a rooftop tent in gale force winds was like being in a small plane in turbulence! We were literally hanging on –the car was rocking in the wind making the whole tent shake and  you could feel the wind rushing beneath us between the tent and the car – and the noise of the heavy duty canvas windows and doors flapping was deafening combined with the worry that the tent might shred itself to bits meant we had a long sleepless night. Fortunately our  South African Echo Rooftop tent is made of strong, heavy duty canvas, so survived the wild weather much better than we did! Mind you, as we much we love our Roofie, we were jealous of those camping lower to the ground as the wind didn’t die down for 3 days!!

Despite the weather, we still spent the days venturing out to the main snorkelling sites Turquoise Drift & Oyster Stacks – which were both some of the best snorkelling we’ve ever done – and straight off the beach! Turquoise Drift is particularly good as you can walk straight in off one sand bar and let the currents sweep you across to the next one. The water,  was teeming with colourful fish and corals and we even saw a number of turtles – fortunately it was pretty warm whilst in the water, but once out we had to huddle in the car with copious amounts of hot tea to warm up. It all wasn’t just watery adventures  – whilst packing up one morning a guy came running over to say he’d got bogged in the sandy creek crossing and could we pull him out. It was like music to Richard’s ears and if there’d been a phone box around, i’m sure he’d have run into for a quick change into his Superman outfit – he just loves a rescue! However, there wasn’t one, so minus cape  we set off to the creek to rescue the stricken father and his 3 children. Was good to be on the other end of the tow rope this time!

Finally our Whale Shark day had arrived and we were up early and ready for our pick up to go to the marina. The weather was still awful and now the wind was accompanied by driving rain, but we were still keen to go no matter what! Our pick up time came and went and after an hour we decided that the trip must have been cancelled due to the conditions, we had no way of knowing as there is no phone signal, so feeling deflated we packed up the tent and left the camp – we weren’t sure when the next trip would go out and we really needed to start heading south. We drove 40km to the nearest phone box and rang the tour operator to work out what to do next. What followed was the most infuriating conversation, establishing that no, the trip had not been cancelled, we had simply been told the wrong pick up point!’ The blasé nature of the tour operator only fuelled the fire, insisting that we had got it wrong, not her. Raging by this point, that not only had we stuck it out in the wild weather for this trip and were now facing the possibility of missing out on a lifelong dream and hadn’t even had an apology we hung up the phone and headed the 80kms back to Exmouth to the office to have it out. Fortunately her manager took over when we arrived but despite her efforts there was no other availability for another 3 days so refunded our trip. We were gutted. Everywhere else was also just as booked up, but remembering that a guy we’d met at the campsite had done the trip from Coral Bay, we called the Eco Tours company down there and to our surprise they had 2 spots left for the next day! The anger soon subsided as we sped down to Coral Bay – so relieved that our Whale Shark experience was back on the agenda. 

Coral Bay itself is little more than 2 caravan parks but nestled next to the most beautiful bay, it has a very relaxed and chilled vibe in comparison to Exmouth. We’d been told to give it a miss, but we were so happy to be going on the trip that we saw Coral Bay through very rose tinted glasses and thought it was a great little place. So, Whale Shark trip take 2! The next day we couldn’t believe it when we woke up to blue skies and no wind – maybe fate had been trying to tell us something the day before? The trip itself was more incredible than i could have imagined – the spotter plane soon found a whale and we had our first swim less than an hour into the trip. The first drop into the water is an exhilarating experience – jumping off the back of the boat into water hundreds of metres deep, you’re heart is pounding as you scan the water to see where the shark is but as it gracefully emerges out of the blue it is just breathtaking.  Our second shark of the day was an 8m male, who seemed to enjoy swimming with us as much as we did with him and stayed with us for nearly 2hours. They are incredibly docile and curious creatures and as we swam towards him for the first time, he actually turned round to swim towards us – a hilarious sight as everyone tried to back-peddle as quickly as possible to get out of his way! Following 6 swims, we headed back to the inner reef for more snorkeling – this time fish, turtles, rays, reef sharks – just amazing and all topped off with a glass of champagne. So if you’re ever in the area, we couldn’t recommend Eco Tours @ Coral Bay highly enough – they’re a fantastic crew & will make your day really specImage

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Broome – Karijini NP

Day 26:

KLMS Travelled:  8,498

 We’ve made it coast to coast! Driving up to Broome, we found a great  free camping spot at a pearl farm in Willie Creek –  it was so good to see the sea again – we’d missed it on our trek through the middle! We parked up on the headland, which had a stunning view across the bright blue ocean – although frustratingly, the promise of a cool dip after a long drive was quickly aborted when we came across the croc warning signs!

Taking a few days out in Broome, it was good to get back on top of blogs/emails/photos/laundry and cleaning the car which is full of about 3inches of dust. The car also seemed to be making a strange creaking sound which had been gradually getting worse so we decided that we’d get it checked over to make sure it wasn’t anything serious. It’s hard not to feel nervous anytime the car makes unusual noises as we’re conscious that she’s an old girl and she’s got a long way to go. But, no sooner had we decided to take her to the mechanics, the noise seemed to miraculously disappear the next day? So we pointed her South and kept going keeping our fingers tightly crossed!

Our next destination was Karijini NP, a place that had come highly recommended by the camping legends the Schwind Family, who thoroughly vetted our trip before we left. En route, we stayed at Cape Keraudren, an amazing spot on the coast managed by a crazy warden and his pet roos – i still can’t comprehend how people live such lonely and remote lives, but he seemed content with his family of Kangaroos, all of which were rescue cases which he’d nursed back to health, but following their recovery they’d decided life was pretty good hanging out with him, so had stayed.

The drive to Karijini isn’t pleasant – unfortunately outside the paradise of the national park the surrounding areas are all big iron ore mining areas. The huge road trains thunder up and down the highway and with their speed firmly set at 110km/hr, they are very intolerant of cruisey travellers like us who bumble along at 90km/hr! Feeling rather harassed by the time we turned into the park we were relieved to  find a camp spot at Dales Gorge campsite inside the sanctuary of Karijini. The park is famous for it’s deep gorges, waterfalls and swimming holes and we spent the next couple of days getting our fix of all 3. The highlight had to be walking into Hancock Gorge as the rain the previous day meant there was more water in there. There were sections where we had to take our boots off and paddle through,  but each section seemed to get deeper and deeper until we had to ditch all of our gear on a rock ledge and swim for it. At the end we had to scramble down waterfalls into the bottom of the gorge to get to a deep swimming hole. It was so stunning that Rich went back for the camera which he then had to swim back with one arm holding the camera up in the air and out of the water. Really should have got a Go Pro before we left!!

We camped at the Eco Retreat the second night, but in hindsight should have just gone back to Dales. Eco Retreats generally mean you pay a lot of money for the privilege of cold showers& basic toilets all in the name of saving the planet, which i’m all up for, but I can also be eco to my wallet as well and stay in an NP campground for $14 a night!ImageImageImageImageImageImage

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The Gibb River Road

DAY 20:

KLMS TRAVELLED 6,500

After Alice we scooted up the Stuart Highway to Tilmouth Wells RoadHouse ready to hit the notorious Tanami the next day.  We’d checked the road conditions and had been told that the track was ok at the moment, but in the back of our minds we still had a niggling feeling as we’d been told by many people how rough it could be. But as a 1,000klm short cut, it was worth a crack. Up at 5am the next day, we set out and almost as soon as our wheels hit the gravel, the corrugations began.Not just the gentle type that go brrrrr on the tyres, but bone shaking corrugations that make every inch of you wobble! We were both worried that the car would shake itself to pieces and with such a long way to go we didn’t want to put the old girl under more strain than she needed to be at this stage, so made the quick decision to abandon the Tanami and hit the highway.

Frustrating at the time, we’d done a 300klm round trip to a dump of a roadhouse and were now looking at adding a further 1500klms to go round the top. But we soon found our silver lining – the realisation that we could now do the Gibb River Road! So we continued up the long old highway for what seemed like an eternity– thank god for good tunes and Trivial Pursuit on the Ipad!!!  We turned off as soon as we could,  taking another back road shortcut across the Buchanan Highway, an unpaved section that cuts out going all the way up to Katherine. It was a beautiful drive through ‘Big Sky country’ and we set up camp in Jasper Gorge towards the end of the track. Just us, in the middle of nowhere! The remoteness has definitely taken some getting used to, but now really enjoying setting up camp away from everyone else – and of course an even bigger bonus to find a gem of free camp spot!

Heading into Kununurra we stocked up on supplies and prepared the car for the Gibb River Road (GRR). We were exhausted and the pace we’re moving was starting to get to us, so we stayed an extra day. When planning a trip like this on a map, the theory of driving so many KLMS a day sounds fine, but in reality it’s full on. Australia is a BIG place, so with it come the long drives especially if you only have limited time and budget.

So the GRR! We’d travelled through the NT the previous year, but had hired a campervan so hadn’t been able to go down it and had always regretted not having a 4WD to be able to do it. But here we were, in Kylie! The GRR is an old beef route for driving cattle the 700kms between Wydham and Derby cutting across the Kimberleys. The seasons are extreme out here, with the dry, arid landscapes quickly becoming unpassable during the wet season.  This year the NT hasn’t had it’s typical monsoon season and so although we hit the track at the beginning of the open season, the water levels were very low. In some ways a blessing as the drive was much easier, but disappointing that we wouldn’t get to experience the real challenge of crossing the Pentecost and Durack River. Both are legendary for being long deep, croc infested river crossings, but as we passed through, the water barely covered the wheels!

We skipped past the ‘big wilderness resorts’ of El Questro and Home Valley – both great if you’ve got the cash and are looking for a little luxury in the outback – but only needing something simple we headed to smaller station – Ellenbrae. A quirky little place with an amazing outdoor shower, toilet and tub!  For the first time on the trip, the moon wasn’t up meaning that the stars were just immense. We cracked up the vino and spent the night staring up at the millions of stars in the sky – have never seen so many stars!

There was only one other couple at the camp and on their good advice we headed onto Mount Barnett and the Manning Gorge. We spent the afternoon swimming in the crystal clear waterhole by the camp – perfect way to cool down on such a hot day. Despite the heat, we still decided to have a campfire to cook on that night, but after lighting the fire within seconds the flames had leapt over the rock fireplace and onto surrounding grass. Shit!!!! The flames were racing off through the grass and despite throwing water onto it, it wasn’t enough to stop it. The shovel was still bolted onto the back door and we were running out of ideas fast.  Fortunately the caretaker onsite came rushing over with his wife and 2 spades and began shovelling dirt over the spreading fire. Thank god they’d seen it as we would have been in big trouble!! The fire was put out in a matter of minutes, but not before burning out a huge patch of grass, not to mention coming within feet of the car!!! The speed at which it all happened was frightening and we were kicking ourselves that we’d let it happen – easily avoided if 1) We’d cleared the area properly 2) Had the shovel to hand  – both of which we’ll ensure we always do in the future! Lesson learned!

Feeling rather sheepish after the incident we were up early and out of the camp not long after sunrise, walking the track up to Manning Gorge waterfall. It took about an hour, but after the hot and sweaty walk we were rewarded with the most amazing waterfall. We spent the morning swimming and Rich regressed to schoolboy age, daring himself to jump off higher and higher rocks into the waterfall – each time surfacing with bigger and bigger grins – haha such a kid!

The gorges and the waterfalls are what make this area so worth a visit and we were lucky enough to arrive the day after Bell Gorge had just opened. Again, another short hike to be rewarded with yet another stunning waterfall for swimming in! Bliss. We camped up by the gorge that night in ‘Silent Grove’, but don’t be fooled by the name! The morning light bought with it a cacophony of birds – Corellas, Black Cockatoos, White Cockatoos, Crows – you name it, it was squawking!!

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