Leaving Broome, we began the long drive south, but detoured off the Great Northern Highway, to visit Marble Bar – its distinction being once the hottest town in Australia. It is quite a neat small town with sealed roads and kerbing – unusual in outback towns. Probably the nearby mining companies provide much of the infrastructure. The marble bar which gave the town its name, is in fact an outcrop of jasper. The river and waterholes nearby are most welcome on a hot days, and the area is still popular with holidaying prospectors (gold and semi-precious gems).
The low hills in this area of the Pilbara – usually so arid – are sparsely covered in soft green vegetation (a legacy of the massive amount of rain earlier in the year) but the tops of the hills all look like they are sprinkled thickly with dark brown rocks looking all the world like chocolate sprinkles on cupcakes.Moving on to our next stop which was Roebourne – surely one of the most depressing towns we had travelled through. A big population of aboriginal people live there, but despite the facilities provided (training/business guidance centres, art centre, aboriginal community rooms, men’s meeting rooms, youth centres, welfare and health centres and child-minding, etc., etc.,) the town has a run-down look with many residential streets littered with broken glass and rubbish.
We had a day trip to Port Samson on the coast and also Cossack, an old gold-rush town which was formerly the pearling centre before the industry moved to Broome. There were some lovely old restored buildings there and the scenery was just gorgeous. I was surprised it hadn’t been developed more as a tourist resort area.Leaving the caravan park laundry and heading for the clothes line with a bag full of just washed clothes, I noticed a movement on the steps of the laundry just as I was about to descend. Oh, I thought, a gecko – but then realised that geckos had legs and weren’t quite so long and slim. It was a snake a little over a metre in length and brown at that! It disappeared beneath the laundry and so I continued to the line. Several people were purposefully walking past towards a nearby caravan annexe and so I called out to them about the snake. The hunt was on and eventually one of the men despatched the very dangerous King Brown snake with a shovel while an interested audience kept their distance. “I don’t know how I did that” said the rather shaken hunter, “I usually have to get the missus to remove spiders at home!”
Further south along the highway, wildflowers began to appear with soft mauve shrubs with conical blooms along with low creamy white bushes and splashes of bright red Sturt’s Desert Pea interspersed. Quite lovely amongst the red soil and the white trunks of the eucalyptus trees.Along these long stretches of remote outback roads and highways there are areas set aside for 24 hour parking/camping. These free sites are of course without power or water and most have just a very basic toilet facility. Nonetheless, they are popular with travellers and up to twenty or so caravans, campers, tents gather at some spots at the end of a day’s travelling. If you’re lucky there are shady trees and sometimes a river (occasionally dry!) but always spaces for campfires to brew up and to cook your evening meal. Sitting outside at night in the silence of the outback is a special feeling and hours can be spent gazing up at the brilliant night sky. Banjo Paterson got it right with “… the air is clear as crystal and the white stars fairly blaze…”
Next stop was Exmouth on the north-west cape. This lovely area abuts the Ningaloo Reef which stretches 260kms from Coral Bay to Exmouth. We found a dog-minder for an afternoon and then joined a group of about 20 others on a whale-watching expedition. There was quite a large swell in the ocean once we had passed out over the reef but fortunately no-one was sea-sick. Around this time of the year, humpback whales swim up from the Antarctica to the warmer waters of the Kimberley area to give birth. I think all up we would have spotted around 20 whales and it certainly was fantastic to see them breeching. Motoring back into shore as the sun fell into the sea behind us gave us a most brilliant sunset. Take-away Chinese food that evening completed a really lovely day.Moving on after the necessary washing and cleaning up was done, our next stop was Carnarvon with its Earth Tracking Station dish (used by NASA in tracking the Gemini, Apollo and Skylab space projects). This town had been hit quite badly by floods earlier this year and the widespread acres of fruit growing plantations were still recovering as were the residents. Nonetheless, in spite of its obvious agricultural wealth, the town – to us – seemed in general to be rather down at heel. Again the insurance companies here mostly seemed to be able to wiggle out of paying up for the flood damage, so much tidying up and restoration still needs to be done.
Next stop – Monkey Mia.