Beaches, Bulldust and Back to Reality

We left the northern Gascoyne river free camp on yesterday morning headed homeward. It was sunny, warm and beautiful as we packed up, but within two hours as we pulled into Meekatharra it was cold, cloudy and drizzling… We were all reaching for jumpers and warm weather clothes – which were mostly still tucked away in the camper. The contrast was huge.

The last 4 weeks have been spent between beaches and bulldust, as we have alternated between coastal camps and inland gorges and rivers. It’s been an awesome time and a reminder that 4 weeks is just enough to really unwind and clear the head.

The kids spent half the day up this mango tree – Sam fell out once…

We went to Broome not sure how long we’d stay and ended up being there a week. On the second day there another family of 5 pulled in next to us. Also towing a Jayco Eagle and half way thru their big Oz trip. We had a bit in common already and got chatting. We connected well with them and the kids got on really well too so it made it easy to hang around and go places together. They turned out to be God botherers too – Baptists even – so we had a bit more in common than just the same caravan. Nice folks and we’re hoping we might catch them again either for a coffee or a night or two when they hit Perth.

The sun puts on a show in Broome – quite the crowd pleaser

The day we left Broome saw the kids back in moping mode. No friends… Just wanting to go home… ‘How far can we drive today?…’ it stretched my patience just a bit. I’m feeling like a man eating his last meal and savouring every bite and they are sighing and whining like I’m making them eat gravel. Now I’m grumpy.

At this point I begin to contemplate holidays without kids…

But only for a while. Our first stop at De grey river was nice. A fire and a swim changed the mood a little. The kids had hit the grumps even more when they realized we weren’t staying in a van park, with real showers and toilets and electricity. This does not impress me…

We were running short on power as we discovered just before Broome that the deep cycle battery that serves the camper had carked it. So we have been using the car battery for lighting at night while being careful not to drain it. I could have bought another in Broone but it could be 12 months before it gets really needed again, so best to wait until just before the next major trip.

We left De grey and headed for Wittenoom. There was a shop stop at Hedland to appease those needing a civilization fix and then we drove down the highway to Auski (Munjina) and turned right. There was only 15 ks of dirt into Wittenoom but it was as dusty as we have seen, with heaps of trucks back and forthing to the Solomon mine. The duct tape kept us pretty dust free this time round, unlike the Millstream debacle.

The old convent in Wittenoom, with a potential new sister…

We entered Wittenoom expecting to see abandoned houses and no life at all. (I think it was 1985 when Wittenoom officially closed the asbestos mine and tried to move people on.) Instead there were 10 or 15 houses clearly inhabited by people who had either refused to leave or who had come in when everyone else had gone. They live there as permanents.

It is an unusual place and interesting to poke around. As we slowly trundled around the streets we were approached by a local, clearly concerned as to what we were doing there and ‘what our business was’. A spate of vandalism and crime had stirred her sensitivities. She was a tad ‘odd’, as maybe you need to be to live in a place like that…

It seems people there survive on bore water, solar power and gas bottles with drives into Tom Price as needed. The town itself is a curiosity and one I’m glad I had time to see as I doubt it will be there in 20 or 30 years time when the final residents either sell up or die.

There’s something about a campfire

But the beauty of Wittenoom isn’t the town. Rather it’s the camp spots in the gorge that lies about 7 ks out of town and back towards the old mine. We found 3 or 4 really nice spots where you could camp (free) next to fresh water and probably not see another person. We saw 5 or 6 cars in the 3 days we were there, but I’m guessing plenty of people are still frightened of the asbestos risk. The resident we chatted to advised us that air studies done 10 years ago showed the air to be fine and that people were still being deterred from going there more because the Gov wants to shut it down rather than because of any danger. Apparently in the bad old days the town often had an asbestos cloud over it from the mine, which couldn’t have been all that good for the lungs. We asked at the Newman visitors centre for Wittenoom info and the previously chirpy advisor went cold and told us there was no info, Wittenoom was out of bounds and no one was to go there…

Make you wanna go hey?..,

There are some beautiful remote camp spots in Wittenoom

I reckon we found a little piece of paradise there and will certainly be back again. Our ‘camp-site’ was on an old bridge no longer in use right next to some flowing water, but in our exploring we found two other spots that looked even better.

Leaving Wittenoom was hard as it was idyllic for those of us who love remoteness and seclusion. I’d love to add ‘silence’ but the racket of frogs and the noise of the water made it anything but quiet!

We took off out of there on Sunday and drove steadily to our camp at the Gascoyne river where it became all about navigating the weather to try and get home without getting rained on because the red dust in the camper would quickly turn to mud and not be fun to clean up.

So last night, after four nights of free camping I relented and we stayed in a van park in Dalwallinu. We arrived at 4pm – and were tempted just to put our heads down and drive on thru – but stopping was definitely the better decision. It was hot showers all round and all were happy. The solar shower I knocked up in Broome was working well in the warmer weather so long as you aren’t too precious about getting your gear off, but I reckon it wasn’t going to cut it last night.

Sam tries out the solar shower Mk 1 – a few mods and it’ll be sweet

From there it was off to the pub for a big feed to celebrate a great month of holidaying. We covered 7000ks in the last month – the equivalent of driving to Melbourne and back to put it in perspective – a hell of a long way! My Kuhmo road venturer tyres which I put on just before the big trip in 2009 are coming up for 97000ks which I reckon is pretty amazing, and they still have a good 20000ks left in them before I choof off to buy another set.

Interestingly on the drive from Hedland to New Norcia we had mobile reception once – in Newman – pretty poor really! Time to lift your game Virgin.

We rolled into Perth before lunch this morning and as we drove down the Two Rocks road the rain pelted and the wind blew… We remembered why we had headed north. I guess if you have to come home then Yanchep is as good a place as any to return to, but I could have kept going for another month or two with very little trouble.

This afternoon the Patrol had a birthday and now looks good enough to sell. The kids watched TV and Danelle washed everything she could get her hands on.

Reality… hello…

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