2014 Trip Blog,
Thursday 1st May, Woomera, SA.(speedo 19,997 klm)
We left Port Augusta around 1030 after picking up our parcel from the Post Office quite glad that it had arrived today, meaning we could push on to Woomera.
We arrived at Pimba in time for lunch at Spud’s Roadhouse. A great little outback Roadhouse with a lot of character. After a very nice steak sandwich we headed on to Woomera.
Woomera, an Aboriginal word meaning ‘spear thrower’ was established as a limited access township in 1947 as a Defence Facility supporting the RAAF and Woomera Test Range. The township itself, sits in the SE corner of the Woomera Prohibited Area. Restrictions on public access to the township were lifted in 1982 allowing the town to develop as a tourist destination whilst still maintaining its support role for the Woomera Test Range. There is no private housing in Woomera.
Saturday 3 May, Bush Camp Lake Gairdner, SA (North of the Gawler Ranges)We left Woomera after a quick stop in at the Woomera Village Store for some supplies then headed back South to Pimba and Spuds Roadhouse where we fuelled up and headed North up the Stuart Highway.
It was a good decision to stay put in Woomera yesterday as it was raining with wind gusts up to 50+kph. We had planned to go up to Roxby Downs to take a tour of the Olympic Dam Mine but the tour was cancelled. We were disappointed but given the weather it turned out the better option to stay where we were.
It was still overcast today with rain falling on and off but when the sun did come out it lit up the whole landscape, blending the colours of the outback so beautifully. This is what we love. This is why we travel. A 360° view of the horizon with only the bounding of a couple of kangaroos or the gentle prancing of emus grazing to grab our attention. Galahs, Pink Crested Cockatoos and the odd Hawk hovering in the breeze all provide a diversion to your thoughts as you look and appreciate what you cannot appreciate in the bustling suburbs.
We reached Glendambo Roadhouse then turned West off the Stuart Highway and onto a dirt track to Kingoonya. We were in luck, the road was open. Over the last few days it has been closed then reopened so we were crossing our fingers that it was still open. Our luck was in. We headed West for Kingoonya.
The road to Kingoonya wasn’t too bad, definitely a bit worse for wear after the recent rains but no problem getting through. We reached Kingoonyah, which consisted of a small Pub and a house, and turned South onto the track to Wirulla. This track had been a lot more effected by the rains and our progress was slow as we made our way over the many washouts, holes, dips and bumps.
It wasn’t long before we found a reasonably good campsite and set up quickly, just as it began to pour. This did not deter Don though, as he had pulled out a rack of lamb earlier this morning from the freezer and he was determined this is what he was going to cook for tea. Downpour or not, nothing was going to get in the way of the man and his meat.
I glanced out of the van as Don prepared the Cobb cooker, dusk would soon be upon us but I knew we would be having that rack of lamb tonight even if it was midnight before it was cooked. He held it up to me triumphantly as he placed it into the cooker. He was totally soaked but the cooker was nice and dry under the shelter he had made for it. I smiled, turned and prepared a light salad. He wasn’t going to last until midnight.
Post Script: the rack of lamb was absolutely delicious and worth the wait.
Sunday 4 May, Penong, SAAahhh……The Serenity………how corny that sounds but how true a statement. The night’s stillness was beautiful, the stars sparkled in the dark sky, the crescent moon was full and rich against the blackness. No jarring sounds interrupted the peacefulness of our natural surroundings. How good it felt to be camping out in the bush again.
After a good night’s sleep we packed up camp around 10am and headed South. The track had improved and traveling was easy. Most of the creeks that crossed the track had only a trickle of water running through them. The lakes were a great haven for birdlife with beautiful colours reflected on their surface from the hills and sand dunes beyond.
We passed through the Hiltada Conservation Area, quite an amazing landscape of saltbush. In the mid nineties, saltbush salinity farming began to gain recognition as ‘out of the box’ thinking began to show a greater understanding of the benefits of saltbush revegetation for grazing purposes.
We stopped for a coffee against the backdrop of the Gawler Ranges. We will definitely camp here again and spend a lot more time exploring in this area.
We passed through the Gawler Ranges then turned West for Wirulla then NW for Nunjikompti, now only a small cluster of abandoned buildings which fell into disuse when the small farms were sold to make larger holdings in the early 2000’s. The Nunjikompti Hall, built in 1960 was sold in 2006, providing enough money to erect the sign in memory of the town’s historic past. The local School closed in 1983.
Monday 5th May, Penong, SAPenong consists of a Roadhouse, a Pub, a small General Store and not much else so it’s extremely quiet, especially as we are the only ones in the small Caravan Park. Just the place to spend another day.
We took the opportunity to get our washing done and on the line then stopped off at the Roadhouse for lunch before heading to Port Sinclair and Cactus Beach about 20km South. Before turning onto the dirt track South, we saw quite an agile stumpy tail lizard hurrying across the road. Although fully grown he appeared to be a young one, he had real personality. Of course we had to take a few photos of him before continuing on our way.
Not having our wet suits with us we decided to give the surf a miss for today and explore a few of the tracks that wound around through the conservation area. We never quite made it to the dunes no matter which track we tried but it was still fun.
Tuesday 6 May, Bush Camp, West of Nullabor, SAWe left Penong after fuelling up and headed West for a dirt track just East of Bookabie. The track was unmarked and easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there. We followed this track SW to Fowlers Bay, another beautiful protected Cove surrounded by high white sand dunes. Wow! It was very tempting to hang around here for a day or two.
We parked near the jetty and went for a walk along the pier, a good 500m long. The Bay was just beautiful. Standing at the end of the pier with a gentle breeze blowing across the water, the view beautiful in every direction. The cluster of small dwellings on the foreshore that made up Fowlers Bay were nestled below large white sand dunes that towered above the community. We could hardly wait to climb them.
We walked back down the pier and stopped in at the local shop for a coffee before driving around past the sand dunes. This time they were accessible so it didn’t take long to park the truck, grab our cameras and head up the dunes. I absolutely loved it! This was definitely a big highlight for me. Climbing up these huge, amazing dunes, watching the sea below come into view as we neared the top. We walked along the ridge of the dunes marvelling at the view, pausing to snap away with our cameras as we went. Don was far more sensible than me; once he had his photo he moved on but I’m afraid I needed to photograph every square inch of those dunes, just in case I missed a grain of sand. Had we not already decided to continue on I would have stayed up on top of those dunes all day.
Back in the truck and back to earth we headed up the NW track towards Coorabi. We came across a poor little wombat that hadn’t made it across the road. This is the first dead wombat we have seen in all our travels. We were to understand why we had seen a dead one in this vicinity a little later down the track. Unfortunately, we also came across a dead stumpy tail as well. Poor little thing.
We arrived in Coorabi and stopped for a few photos of the old school house before continuing on and turning South to Cheetima Beach. Further along this track we turned NW again to Urabi Well. It was along these tracks that we began to understand how one little wombat had managed to get itself killed. There were large wombat holes everywhere. Not just large, huge. Huge mounds everywhere, a bit like a magnified version of the Prairie Dog ‘towns’ we saw in the US. Quite a few freshly dug holes too so the wombats are definitely alive and well and thriving in this part of SA.
The tracks so far were quite good to drive on and wound through really picturesque countryside of low, green, rolling hills with very few trees. After stopping at Urabi Well we swung North and looked for a nice place to stop for lunch. We pulled in under a couple of nice gums and were surprised to see the whole area covered in small white sea shells. It seemed strange to think that this whole area was once covered by the ocean but even stranger to think of how long ago this was and that these sea shells are still covering this area today.
After our stop we continued on up this Northern track to the Chintumba Tank. The landscape became more wooded and the track more sandy and narrow. Pretty soon, the track was barely wide enough for the truck to fit through. Roots protruded from the sandy soil and shrubs and trees hung across the track. We were down to 5kph as we squeezed our way past the overhanging branches and the bushy shrubs that lined the track. At one stage we had to clear the track of a large tree that had fallen across the path. Thoughts began to creep into my mind that maybe this track was going to peter out to nothing but a wild animal trail but looking across at Don’s unperturbed profile soon set my mind at ease. Wild animal trail or not, I was with the right man!
We continued North along this track, gaining a momentary respite from the thick scrub when we reached the Ninalimba Tank. Don threw a stone down the well and estimated it to be at least 400ft deep with water at the bottom. How long and how many men does it take to dig a 400ft well?
Back on the track and back into the scrub. The track now was even narrower, sandier and more rooted. But we weren’t, thanks to Don’s driving skills. The sandy soil had been completed gouged out in places up to 6ft deep, the truck and the van performed admirably, guided by skilled hands. We finally reached the Eyre Highway and the bitumen. Back ‘into it’ as we pulled out onto the Highway. Two large trucks bored past, a couple of cars overtook as we geared up and a string of motor-bikes zoomed past. That little narrow track didn’t seem so bad after all.
We had pulled onto the Highway on the Eastern side of Yalata and continued on until we reached Nullabore Roadhouse, just past the Western side of Yalata. It was almost time to call it a day. We continued West about 5km past the Roadhouse and found a nice spot to camp. It had been a good day.
Wednesday 7th May, Border Village, SA/WAWe had pulled in about 1km off the H’Way to camp last night, not far from the Old Nullabor Track, so we packed up and got moving early. We hadn’t traveled far up the track when we were lucky enough to spot a beautiful pale coloured Dingo about 500m away. We ran parallel with him for about 1km, he would pause, check us out then continue on again. He was similar to the Dingo we saw in this same area on our last trip through here. A beautiful pale white/cream colour with red/brown eyes, nose and ears.
We reached the track heading North to Cook, alongside the TransContinental Railway Line and swung North, not intending to go up to Cook on this trip but we wanted to check the track out. The track was wider, pot-holed with a lot of water across it but looked in reasonable condition. The day was overcast with heavy black clouds looming above us and heavy rain visible on the horizon. We went about 10km up the track before turning back South. This would definitely be an alternate route next time around.
We continued on the Old Nullabor Track, which is always interesting and reached Koonalda Homestead around lunch-time. Koonalda Homestead, built in1938 from old railway sleepers was a sheep and cattle station that also sold fuel to travellers up until 1988. The Homestead is still in good repair and is open to travellers who wish to camp on the property. We first discovered this interesting place a few trips ago and always call in whenever we travel along this route. Along with the Farm House there is also a Shed, an old Workshop, a Shearing Shed and a myriad of car and truck bodies of great interest to any car enthusiast.
We drove back to Koonalda, opting not to camp here tonight but to push on to the border. Back on the track we were rewarded with more sightings of Stumpy Tails, agile and looking very healthy. One of these almost caused itself a mishap when it scuttled out in front of us. Don braked and we held our breath. Jumping out of the truck we saw it hiding behind the passenger rear wheel, it wasn’t going anywhere. We couldn’t coax it out so Don very slowly edged the truck forward until the Stumpy was exposed. It took a moment or two before it gathered its courage and scuttled across to the other side of the track.
We continued West intending to check out another Blowhole we thought was along the track but we were unable to find it. We contented ourselves with a walk to a Communication Tower not far off the track. After a couple of photos though I was ready to speed jog back to the truck. As it was only about a 500m walk I hadn’t thought to wear my ‘fly hat’….a big mistake. We were almost carried aloft by flies, in our eyes, ears, noses buzzing around our faces and layering themselves on our skin to form a black, moving mass. YUK!!! I’m no speedster, more of a ’pacer’ but I think I would have broke the speed record today getting back to the truck. Don??? He sauntered along oblivious to the little black bastards. But! I’m not the one who swallowed the fly!
We arrived at Border Village, the border between SA and WA around 4.30pm and fuelled up. We had planned to continue on but the weather had turned quite dark and the rain was now pelting down. We were both tired so decided to stop here and call it a day. The area out the back of the Roadhouse had a number of electricity poles but it was pot-luck if they were working as many had been run over. Rather than drive around looking for a ‘live’ one, Don grabbed the small electric fan and headed out into the rain, stopping off at each pole until he found one that worked. Whilst we had the luxury of electricity for the night there was no water. Too precious a commodity in this area.
Thursday 8th May, Bush Camp, 100km West of Cocklebiddy, WAIt was still raining heavily when we awoke this morning so we headed into the Roadhouse for a nice, hot ‘truckies’ breakfast before beginning the task of packing up. The area around the Roadhouse had been partially flooded when we arrived last night and had not diminished this morning. The sign in the portable donga set up as the ablution block stated that the area was currently experiencing severe drought conditions so to be extremely frugal with water as the water was having to be shipped in from Norseman. This is a normal sign for these areas but it seemed rather ironic to be sloshing around getting completed soaked by the pelting rain outside. But this was only an illusion, even this downpour would make very little difference to the drought situation.
We dallied over breakfast but eventually had to brave the rain and pack up which didn’t take long but I was quite wet by the time I climbed into the truck. Don on the other hand, was soaked through, as most of his packing up ‘bits’ are outside. It wasn’t cold at all, just wet. I was wondering whether or not I had an excuse to feel sorry for myself as I flicked back my wet fringe and adjusted my shorts that clung wetly to my legs when Don climbed up into the truck. I glanced across at him………..”Nahhhh! Definitely no excuse for me to feel sorry for myself” I thought. His clothes looked like he had put them on straight out of the washing machine before they went through the spin cycle. He had made a pathetic attempt to keep his head dry with a floppy ‘wallie’ hat but this was now plastered flat against his head almost like a helmet, water running off it and dripping in riverlets down his neck. There was no way I was going to whinge about being a little damp!
We went through the Border check (this is a quarantine station to ensure no fruit, vegies, honey or plant matter etc. is carried over the border) then continued West along the Eyre Highway. We saw a few eagles feeding on road kill but very little else. Too wet for the emus and kangaroos today.
We passed a few areas marked along the highway for the RFDS (Royal Flying Doctor Service) to land in an emergency. Don and I always donate to the RFDS. It’s an amazing service which operates with very little fanfare.
By co-incidence, we bumped into another Iveco 4x4 (featured on our Iveco page). We exchanged “Were you here?” and “Were you there?” as we recounted the reports of sightings of each other’s trucks. Unfortunately we couldn’t chat for long as it was still raining so we bid our Goodbyes with us going West and them heading back East.
We found a good spot to camp about 100kms West of Cocklebiddy and pulled in to set up camp just as the sun peeped out from behind the clouds. With luck the rain storm has passed.
Friday 9th May, Bush Camp, Zanthus Siding, WAWe awoke this morning to sunny skies, highlighting the beautiful colours of the bush after the rains. Nothing broke through the silence except the chirping of the birds. It had been a good spot to camp.
After a good breakfast of porridge and fruit we headed back onto the Highway and continued West towards Baladonia. This stretch of the Eyre Highway encompasses the 90mile straight stretch and another couple of RFDS emergency landing areas but unfortunately we sighted very little wildlife.
We reached Baladonia Roadhouse and stopped to fuel up and grab some lunch before heading up the track to Zanthus, a railway siding on the Trans Australia Railway Line. This track is less used than the track heading North from Cocklebiddy to Rawlinna and the track heading North up to Cook but all the checks had indicated that it was Open. The locals at the Roadhouse informed us that the rains had not come this far West so the track should still be O.K.. Do we zig or do we zag? We zigged and headed North for Zanthus.
O.K…….maybe zagging would have been the wiser choice but we were now on the track and heading North. Although the track was very narrow with deep ruts carved into the soft surface we were traversing it fine, albeit very slowly. We could manage this for 150kms.
Although we only saw two kangaroos along the whole route, the birdlife was rife. Their whistles and chirps providing a pleasant background as we slowly made our way along. O.K……..we are stopped temporarily by a large dead tree which had fallen right across the track. We moved it and moved on but the ‘dead tree across the track thing’ began to become more regular. The deep ruts criss-crossing the track became deeper and the bog-holes began to get more slippery. There was nothing to do but keep on going, taking each hurdle as we came to it. The narrow track did not provide any alternative as it was just as wet and boggy in the bush. ‘Only 150kms’ I kept reminding myself.
Saturday 10th May, Bush Camp, Trans Access Road, WAOh Yes! This is indeed a good morning. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping and the ants are scurrying about…….and, we saw a train. We are only camped about 100m from the Trans Australia Railway Line which gave us plenty of time to grab our cameras as the train whizzed by. A long Freight Train with double decker Containers on board. There is just something about trains that continues to fascinate.
We had heard a vehicle come in during the night and saw a maintenance truck parked in front of the building. We were almost ready to head off when a fellow emerged to say ‘G’day’. He was on his way to Kalgoorlie after his two weeks ‘on’ for his one week ‘off’. We chatted for awhile then turned West out of Zanthus Siding onto the Access Track. Although there was water across this track in places, the track was wide and the ground firm so it was an easy drive with plenty of time to look at the scenery.
We reached Coonana Siding (abandoned), no buildings just a signal box and were delighted to see the Freight Train that had passed through Zanthus earlier, parked on the Siding. One of the drivers climbed down from the Engine and approached the Signal Box near where we were parked. Ashley Taylor, what a nice guy! He explained they were waiting at the Siding for another Freight Train coming from the West to pass. They had pulled into the Siding so they could check the other train as it went by to ensure there was nothing protruding or dangling from the Containers that may cause a hazard as they passed through the Rail Crossings. We chatted until we saw the other train approaching in the distance, then Ashley hopped across the track to check the far side whilst Barry, the other Engine Driver checked the near side from his cab.
After having only ‘bucket’ baths over the last couple of days we were hanging out for a shower so after setting up camp Don rigged up our outside shower complete with screen and bath mat. Stepping from the plastic tub to the bath mat was a luxury only a bush camper would understand. We were clean, fresh, well fed and in a great camping spot. What more could you ask for.
Sunday 11th May, Boulder , WA (Mother’s Day)Another beautiful morning made even more so by the phone calls I received. It was great that we had phone reception and were able to receive the calls. Thank you, the calls were very precious.
We reached Boulder-Kalgoorlie and as we checked into the Caravan Park yet another Iveco 4x4 exited the park with both occupants smiling and waving vigourously ! They did not stop to chat but we believe it is the Bocklet Dakar 630E Iveco motorhome that is on a world tour. Before setting up in the Caravan park we headed to the local car wash to ‘de-mud’ our truck and van. $25 worth of coins later, with mud still clinging to the undercarriage Don decided both the van and the truck were clean enough to enter the Caravan Park. We were pleased with our choice of Park, it was roomy and reasonably quiet….for now anyway. (photo from the Bocklet website of the truck we saw)
We checked out the local Pub, the historic Recreation Hotel, established 1898, located not far from the Park. This Hotel was great even though it is still undergoing renovations from the earthquake that occurred in this area a couple of years ago. We got chatting to a very interesting lady that used to work for Kalgoorlie-Boulder Tourism. It’s hard to believe that this area plays a ‘poor cousin’ to Broome and the Margaret River areas but these latter areas enjoy financial support from big business so are promoted on a much larger scale. There is so much to see and do around Kalgoorlie-Boulder that we may have to stop here again on the way South from Broome. Definitely an area worth exploration.
Monday 12th May, kalgoorlie-Boulder, WANot much of interest to write today.
We caught up on chores like washing etc.. then Don removed the Caravan wheels and took them to have new tyres fitted on the rims (Toyo M55 235/85 R16). While waiting for these he went to the Dept of Mines & Petroleum to check up on our Miners Permit which we have misplaced but all was good, we were current on their computer, so the details were printed out and stamped and we are good to go.
While Don was gone I caught up on the Blog as we have been without internet for a few days. It’s amazing how long it takes once you get behind.
When Don returned he refitted the wheels and we headed to the Recreation Hotel for lunch. The lunch was really good here yesterday and today was no different. Throughout our travels we have become somewhat connoisseurs of the humble Steak Sandwich, it being a good staple for protein and salad when on the run. The Steak Sandwich we had today from the Recreation Hotel, has zoomed straight into first place by a long shot. Real steak, sandwiched between Panini Bread filled with tasty salad and caramalised onion and served on a long white platter accompanied with a bowl of perfectly made hot chips and a cold salad on the side. It not only looked good, it tasted phenomenal.
After lunch we did a bit of shopping for necessities before heading back to camp to relax and enjoy the rest of the day.
Tuesday 13th May, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, WAWe were up early this morning in plenty of time to get to Hannan Street for a two and half hour tour of the SuperPit Gold Mine. The tour was not cheap but the opportunity to see inside one of the most profitable Gold Mines in the World certainly made it attractive.
The Open Cut Mine looks enormous from the ground but nowhere near as enormous as when you are standing on the edge of the rim looking into it. It is almost too large of an operation to comprehend. The huge Ore Trucks (load capacity 225 tonnes) look like ants as they crawl slowly up and down the terraced face of the Pit and yet in reality, a man stands only about half way up one of these huge monsters gigantic wheels.
A CAT 793 haul truck ran over this LandCruiser, the driver did not even feel a bump, The 2300hp trucks weigh 166 tonnes empty and can carry 240 tonne, 3790l fuel capacity - price $4.4 million each. On average each truck load of ore contains one golf-ball amount of gold.
Trying to imagine the amount of earth that has been removed to make this humongous hole in the earth is mind-boggling. There is over 3,500 kms of tunnels running underneath Kalgoorlie-Boulder at a depth of up to 1.6 kms. Many deep holes, abandoned diggings from the first pick and shovel miners, still remain dotted throughout the area, albeit fenced off for safety. If you think of looking down at an ant from a ten storey building that’s what it’s like trying to pick out a human working only half-way down this huge Pit.
Drilling rigs at work, 10 meter deep holes are filled with explosive, The area of the photo on the left is shown in the red square on the key image
Don and I don’t do Bus Tours very well, but this is the only way to ‘contain’ spectators in this vast and extensive complex. The Tour turned out to be excellent however, with a very comprehensive overview of the entire operation from blasting to smelting. The vantage points of the viewing areas into the Pit were quite awesome, as was the drive around at ground level into the Milling area. We followed (slowly) behind huge Ore Trucks as they backed up to the enormous Komatsu Face Shovels to collect their loads before transporting them to another area to drop their loads for crushing.
Komatsu PC8000 shovels cost $18 million each, weight 710 Tonnes, 8040Hp , 11,000 l fuel tank @ $1.50 per l would cost $16,500 per tankfull, 60 tonnes of ore per scoop.
The Safety Standards practiced at the Mine are stringent and considered to be the foremost concern. Blasting is prepared but not carried out until a wind report indicates that the dust from the blast will be blown away from the township. Huge ‘chinese hat’ style cones cover the enormous piles of crushed rock awaiting processing in an effort to minimise dust. I can vouch for the effectiveness of these dust reducing measures as I am allergic to dust and usually have problems in townships with Mining operations but I have suffered no discomfort from dust in Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
Parts of the Ore processing plant, the end of the process is in that shed 17kg Gold Bricks. (they are flown direct to Perth Mint)
The first gold in Kalgoorlie-Boulder was discovered by Paddy Hannan, an Irishman, who with a group of other ‘hopefuls’ who were camped in the area with the intention of heading further North the next day. Whilst setting up camp, Paddy happened to glance down and noticed a gold nugget laying on top of the dirt. He secreted the nugget and made an excuse not to head North the next day, concentrating on the area where he was camped instead. This proved to be his bonanza and the Gold Rush story of Kalgoorlie-Boulder began. The tree under which he found the first nugget has been fenced to mark the location.
Old Time shafts up to 1.3km deep are constantly being uncovered, The shaft pictured (at left) is from the position of the green square in the key photo, the wood heap is remnants from historic shaft shoring picked from the pit.
There are a lot more facts and figures to this SuperPit Gold Mine of course but anyone interested in the history of this area or the workings of a very successful and financially viable Gold Mine will enjoy learning of these themselves if they decide to tour through this area. In our opinion, an extremely rewarding tour and time well spent.
Wednesday 14th May, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, WAWe spent the morning doing chores, washing, emails etc.. and of course, taking a bit of time to do just nothing but enjoy the day.
After lunch, we got into our bikes shorts (love those padded bottoms) and went for a 10km bike ride around the area. Although it was 34°c the breeze made it very enjoyable. (I have to be honest…..except for the head wind on the uphill bit, well,... for me anyway).
Nothing much else today, except a bit of grocery shopping and a bit more relaxing.
Thursday 15th May, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, WAHappy Birthday Odette!
This morning I gave my basketball a workout on the ring adjoining the Park whilst Don went into Kalgoorlie to see if he could get a couple of new bike tyres. Unfortunately the thorns in this part of the world are really sharp, like rose thorns and we ended up with two punctures after yesterday’s ride.
No luck with the bike tyres. There is no bicycle shop in Kalgoorlie. Don purchased some ‘green slime’ in lieu of the tyres and squirted it into the tyres………yep! A test ride proved the tyres are still up and riding well. Looks like there’s an opening there for anyone wanting to start up a bicycle shop in Kalgoorlie, especially as there has been quite a few kms of bicycle track put in around the area.
After lunch we took a drive back out to the SuperPit Lookout to check it out in daylight. We drove out there last night and watched the activity below for about an hour. Very interesting….. …and….very scary, watching those huge ore trucks slowly climb their way up the steep graded hillside of the Pit, passing those on the way back down for another load. You wouldn’t want to have your headlights fail on you. It’s scary enough in the daylight.
After leaving the SuperPit Lookout we went for a bit of a drive around. First to the Airport, which is extremely busy most of the time and then took a bit of a tour through the residential areas. The newer residential dwellings could be those of any ‘well-to-do’ suburb, set in the usual ‘estate’ layout of the more modern developments. The new homes are quite a contrast to the older parts of town but both areas have their own unique character. We are looking forward to exploring further when we come back to this area.
Friday 16th May, Bush Camp, (approx 20km NW Lake Ballard, WA)We packed up leisurely this morning, then headed into Kalgoorlie for fuel, a couple of Gas Bottles and a stop at the Post Office before hitching up and heading North along the Goldfields Highway.
About 30km North of Kalgoorlie the ‘Gidji Roaster’ is located. This is a large oven where the gold is unlocked by heat from the sulphides used in the processing operation, then transported back to KCGM where cyanide is used to extract the gold from the residual solution and smelted into Gold Ingots.
We reached Broad Arrow Tavern and turned NW for Ora Banda. The Tavern is all that is left of a township that sprung up here during the gold boom. It’s very hard to imagine a bustling township once flourished in this area. Horses, wagons, men in their suits and hats and women and children in long dress and brollies once strolled and chatted and mingled together in this very spot we now stood. This spot where there is nothing to indicate there was ever any life here except a dilapidated old tin shed, now serving as a Tavern.
We left Broad Arrow and took the track NW to Ora Banda. The shrubbery that lined the sides of the track was brown from the road dust but the rain had been through and dampened the earth, making it quite good to traverse. We passed a lot of smaller individual mines enroute. Smaller than KCGM but still quite large operations. There was a lot of evidence of large open cut mines, many listed as abandoned.
We arrived in Ora Banda around 1130am. Ora Banda consists of a Tavern with a basic Caravan Park in the yard behind the Tavern. There is no township. The Tavern itself has a very checkered history dating back to the Gold Boom days. It has been born, reborn and reborn again, after fires, vandals and a murder.
The Tavern opens up at Noon, so after a wander around we went inside to grab some lunch and a nice cold beer. Both of these were good. The Tavern is very neat, clean and interesting and certainly worth the effort of a visit. We enjoyed our lunch and headed off again, taking the ‘Golden Trail’ that wound around to meet up with the Northern Highway. We turned North here for Menzies.
About 20kms North of the Lake we found a good spot to camp, an abandoned mine area. We set up and took off to explore. Don managed to get some great photos of a very busy spider. He assured me it was well away from our camp site.
Saturday, 17th May, Leinster, WAWhat a beautiful morning; very different to what we are used to waking up to. We usually wake up around 0530 to 0600. Don was first out the door this morning just before 0600 and called out that he couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of him. “Didn’t you put your eyes in?” I called back. (For those who don’t know Don, he cannot see more than an inch in front of him without his contact lenses). “Yes I did” he replied, “but the fog’s so thick out here”. “Oh yeah!” I scoffed “I’m not falling for that one. I got up early too remember.” “I’m not kidding” came Don’s reply as he swung open the door….and he wasn’t. Thick fog clung to the ground with the trees barely visible. It was quite strange as there was no chill in the air at all. The moon was still high in the sky. As the daylight brightened and the sky turned blue the fog dissipated, leaving soft droplets of dew on the finely spun spider webs woven amongst the rocks on the ground. Don returned to ‘his’ spider’s web to capture the fine threads soaked in the morning dew. The ground webs were amazingly beautiful and intricate, rainbow highlights captured in the soft beads of moisture that clung to the silken threads.
We finally got on our way and headed North up the track, passing Mt.Ida Mining Camp and a few others, some in operation and some abandoned. There was evidence of mining everywhere, from large hills to small mullock heaps. We wouldn’t want to wander around out in the dark here as many of the mining shafts are uncovered and very deep. As we passed one small Mining Operation I asked Don to stop so I could get a photo. As he slowed, I looked across at the Head Frame I wanted to take a photo of and saw a mannequin seated on top with his hand in a waving’ position. As we pulled to a stop Don glances across and then waves out the window. “Who are you waving at?” I asked, not seeing anyone around. “That guy up there on the Head Frame” he replied seriously. It took him a few minutes of watching the ‘guy’ in the same position to believe that it was only a mannequin and it took me a few minutes to be able to hold the camera steady enough because of my laughter. Oh Donald, you and your eyesight!
We are still a bit mystified as to the lack of wildlife along these tracks. No Emus and only two Kangaroos today. We continued on the ‘loop’ to Leonora, arriving there around 1135. A quick stop-off for stores and fuel then we headed to the White House Hotel for lunch. Once again, the Outback Pub did not disappoint. Great Steak Sandwich and a welcome cold beer. After lunch we decided to push on to Leinster via the Agnew track but unfortunately this was closed, so back onto the Goldfields Highway and North to Leinster. We had camped at the Golf Course last time we were through here because the Caravan Park was dilapidated and closed. The Camp Ground has now been opened and is quite a nice quiet spot to camp. Fees are paid at the local Supermarket or at the Pub if the Store is closed. We have opted to stay here two nights to do a bit of research on the mining sites in the area.
Sunday 18th May, Leinster, WALeinster is a very peaceful spot to relax. It’s a small Mining Community (Nickel) and with workers on varying shifts, the township is very quiet so the night-shift workers can get their rest. It’s also a very friendly place.
I went for a long walk this morning whilst Don was checking out Mining sites. I can see how easy it would be to get lost in the bush as it all looks the same but I managed to find my way back to the van just as Don came looking for me.
After lunch we went for a 20km drive to check out some potential sites for fossicking but this turned out to be more of a photo excursion.
Not a very busy day today, just hanging out and relaxing.
Monday 19th May, Bush Camp, 50km North of Wiluna, WAWe were all packed up and ready to go but decided to do our washing before heading off, as we may not get another opportunity for a day or so. It wasn’t too hard to sit about in the sunshine and wait. With the washing finished, folded and put away we started off again, stopping to get fuel at the card operated pumps (no staff) then stopping at the local Store for supplies. After another quick tour around the area we headed out onto the Goldfields Highway and headed North for Wiluna. BHP Billiton have announced their intention to sell off the Mine at Leinster, presumably the town would be included in this sale, so we are not too sure what the future holds for Leinster. It is such a nice, quiet and friendly place we can only hope that it survives.
The scenery was pretty as we headed North up the Goldfields Highway. The sky was blue, the clouds big and fluffy, the golden spinifex contrasting brightly against the red of the earth, the colours of the Outback at their beautiful best. We only spotted one lizard, a little frill neck, that darted across the Highway so fast there was no chance for a photo. No Kangaroos, no Emus and very few cattle. But the scenery was beautiful. We passed Lake Miranda, although with very little water, the reflections mirrored the sky in perfect stillness.
Enroute North, Don wanted to check out a couple of mining sites but these were extremely difficult to get into. There were no tracks into the area and the one track we did find was overgrown and down a rather steep embankment, but we headed down to it anyway. Our success didn’t last long though as a steep, deep gully cut across the track and ended our endeavours. We had no alternative but to make a U/Turn through the spinifex and head back down the track, up the steep embankment and back onto the Highway. We continued North until we hit the Yeelirrie Station track where we turned West. This route would take us on a dirt track that looped around about 100kms and joined back up to the Goldfields Highway about 30kms South of Wiluna.
Tuesday 20th May, Newman, WAWe awoke this morning to total stillness and silence. There wasn’t a whisper of a breeze and except for an early-rising crow who let out a couple of squawks no other sound could be heard. The night sky had been very dark, giving great illumination to the stars. A perfect night for star-gazing.
Packing up camp, I was securing the computer cords out of the way under the table and as usual was having a difficult time, as the velcro Don had placed under there was too short, making it difficult to secure the two cords. Daily I would ask him to replace it with a larger piece and daily he would tell me to remind him when he was near the velcro. A few days ago, after getting frustrated with me reminding him all the time he wrote himself a note on a 6”x4” piece of paper and stuck it right in his line of vision from where he sits. As I struggled to secure the cords this morning I had to laugh as I looked up at the ‘reminder note’ still stuck where Blind Freddie couldn’t miss it, but Don had. When I pointed it out to him and suggested that the note had ‘worked well’ he replied, “Oh, I wondered why that bit of paper was stuck there”. I think I’ll just go ahead and risk hurting his feelings and replace the velcro myself. I wonder how long the ‘reminder note’ will stay stuck near his seat?
It was an excellent track to drive on and best of all we finally spotted a few Kangaroos. The diversions were good as the track was dead straight for lengthy periods of time and the sun was hot through the windows. We met up with the Great Northern Highway around Noon and reluctantly left the dirt track behind. The Highway was quite busy, mainly with Over-size Transports carting huge Mining Buckets and one transporting an enormous Cat 785 Haul Truck (weight 106 tonne). That Transporter must have had good suspension.
We stopped at Kumarina Roadhouse for lunch and a break then continued on North, pulling over for more of the Oversize Transporters. The unusual aspect to this road was that instead of the usual dead Kangaroo every kilometre or so, it was a dead cow. We only came across one Kangaroo road-kill. The cattle graze on both sides of the road and unfortunately the greenest grass is the new shoots on the shoulders of the Highway. The Highway has a 110km speed limit. Fast traffic and slow cattle just don’t go well together.
Wednesday 21st May, Newman, WAWhat a great little community. With the largest Iron Ore Open Cut Mine in the world and upgrading and development apparent all around the area, Newman is a very desirable place to visit. The town is humming with activity. The Information Centre is excellent with some large Mining Equipment on display in the outside yard. We were delighted to have the opportunity to get up close and personal with one of the humungous 200 ton (total load weight) Wabco Ore Trucks. This enormous vehicle weighs 75 tons more than a 747 Jumbo Jet (take off weight).
We headed next to the Shopping Complex. This seems to have been outpaced by the progress within the township. There are few shops within the Complex and the Car Park is quite small. The building works happening adjacent to this Complex should increase the shopping area substantially. We had lunch at the Cafe within the Complex then stocked up on a few supplies from the very large Supermarket before heading back to Camp to check out the maps we had picked up and look over our options for the next couple of days.
Thursday 22nd May, Newman, WAWhat a fabulous day!
With plans to go to the Hickman Meteor Crater we hit the road early and headed 17kms South to the Capricorn Roadhouse for fuel and a good breakfast before setting off to the Crater. We finished breakfast and were about to pull out of the Roadhouse when a couple of truckies approached and asked if we were heading into Newman. We glanced over as they nodded towards their truck and noticed the bull bar was bent inwards into a ‘V’. “We hit a cow” they explained, “the radiator’s fractured.” We weren’t going back into Newman but turning up the Marble Bar / Nullagine Road 12kms North but seeing their dilemma we offered to give them a lift back to Newman. After some discussion, they decided to try and drive into Newman and we agreed to follow them in case they didn’t make it. The pepper in the radiator must have done the trick as they managed to make it to Newman without further mishap and we headed back South to the Marble Bar / Nullagine turnoff.
Back down the track we stopped at the Punda Rock Hole to check out the Aboriginal Rock Art. These rocks are located 770m up another track which is far more overgrown, with rocky creek crossings and low hanging trees either side of the narrow track. We drove about 100m up this track then parked and walked the rest of the way, the truck being too high to navigate under the low hanging trees. The grass was long in the middle of the track and the thought of a large snake finding my leg a nice target, lurked in the back of my mind. Where were those long pants when you needed them? Stepping across the creek brought another hazard as the largest wasps I have seen buzzed around atop the water, dipping down momentarily to drink before flying off. I aimed my camera and clicked away, hoping to capture a photo of one, but no luck. Squatting down and waiting for a better opportunity was not an option I was willing to risk a sting for. These were Australian Hornets or Potter Wasps, bright yellow-orange bodies with black stripes and a length of 30mm.
We made our way back to the truck and headed East along the track back towards the Access Road. The anthills in this area were enormous. I had taken a macro of an ant’s nest back on the track to the Punda Rock Hole and was surprised to see the ‘ants’ were actually termites. Tiny almost see-through little things. I had thought it was just a regular ant nest but guess this was the start of one of the gigantic mounds that abound in this area.
As we approached the Access Track we lucked out again as another large Ore Train came into view, heading towards us. You can’t get too many photos of trains so out I jumped and clicked away. The driver gave us a wave as he passed and we turned South in the same direction. It didn’t take us long to catch up and pass the train again but our progress was slowed by the many cattle that were wandering about on the Access Road. There was a great photo opportunity at one stop when the cattle, drinking from the water hole on the road were also joined by a flock of galahs also drinking from the same water hole. With all these stops we didn’t quite make it to the crossing before the train came into view. It is mandatory to stop at the crossing if a train is within a kilometre of the crossing. No matter, we love the trains.
Friday, 23rd May, Newman, WARest day today.
We were both very tired after a fabulous day yesterday. We always know when we have a particularly great day when we look at the number of photos we have taken at the end of the day. Yesterday I took a total of 958 and Don took a total of 162. That’s a lot of photos to look at and then select only a few for the Blog. It is also a very special part of our day, as we relive the day through our photographs.
By the time we had looked through the photographs we had run out of steam for the day, so we spent this morning selecting the photos and uploading the Blog.
The rest of the day was spent with usual chores of washing, shopping for stores and just relaxing.
We will probably head North tomorrow. Our stay in Newman has been great and we will definitely return here in the future. It is a very relaxing place but with activity all around that gives the place a lively buzz. There is still a lot more to see around the area that interests us.
The rest must have been especially beneficial for Don. Before I went to sleep, I wanted to look at the map. The printing was very small and my eyes were very tired. I rolled my hand into a fist and looked through it like a telescope so I could focus on the small print. Don had not yet come to bed and I was aware of him fiddling around at the sink. Next minute he placed something over my eyes and the fine print came into focus……….What was it? He had cut a piece out of the rubber mat with holes in it that you place on your shelves to stop the things from moving about. Hard to explain unless you know what it is, but……………..it worked!!
My life is never boring with Don. Another string to add to his bow………optician!
Saturday 24th May, Marble Bar, WABefore leaving Newman this morning we stopped at the Info Bay to get some photos of the huge 793B Haul Truck on display. This truck is the biggest we’ve seen up close and personal. It weighs 218 tons with a max weight of 376 tons. It is quite awesome standing next to this huge giant. We both have our Heavy-Combination Licence so maybe we should upgrade to one of these monsters. How amazing it would be, to be in the driver’s seat of one of these Big Boys.
Nearing Roy Hill Mine, the road had been deviated to swing around to the East in approx 20km loop before joining back up with the original Marble Bar / Nullagine Road. Earlier we had seen a crew doing some core drilling very close to the roadside and I had remarked that if they find anything of value, ‘there goes the road’. This is obviously what had happened here but we didn’t complain as we were relieved of the corrugations for awhile as we diverted around the 20km sealed section. The road looked and felt brand new. For once we didn’t mind getting onto the tar.
Sunday 25th May, Marble Bar, WAToday we decided to take another trip out to see the Secret WW11 Air Base at Corunna Downs, 35kms South of Marble Bar into the Black Range which is absolutely beautiful and different to anywhere else we have come across. We checked this area out last time we were through here and were looking forward to taking another look, both to see the Air Base and to drive through the Black Range again. We weren’t disappointed, the scenery was stunning.
We hadn’t gone far out of Marble Bar when we took a side track to check out the area. Don has been anxious to do a bit of detecting but no luck on the Marble Bar common today. Back on the track South again we had only gone another couple of k’s when we stopped at an interesting outcrop of schist to take some photographs. We ended up wandering about here for about half an hour. It was such an interesting stop. I came across a very industrious ant’s nest. Spinnifex Grass seeds had been placed around the outside of the nest, radiating outwards and the ants were moving the seeds about. They moved unusually slow at ‘walking pace’ there was not the usual frantic hustle and bustle of a normal nest with ants scurrying in and out.
On the way back to find Don, who had wandered off in another direction, I went by a small hole I had seen movement in when I walked past earlier and was really excited to see a little Peron’s Snake-eyed Skink sitting just outside the hole. These little creatures are only 4.5 cm long and very quick. This was another little fellow who had lost his tail. As I was crouching down trying to be as still as possible and get as close as possible for a photo, I could hear Don calling out to me. There was no urgency in his voice so I steadied myself and began clicking away. Don kept calling. He could not see me as I was crouched down behind the edge of the pit. If I hadn’t got the shot now, too bad. I stood up and saw him standing on top of a large heap of tailings about 500m away. Maybe he just wanted to show me his ‘King of the Castle’ routine that he often does. I took his photo just in case and hurried across to join him.
Once more we headed South for Corunna Downs, marvelling again as we passed through the beautiful Black Range. The hills, with their dark chocolate brown tops spilling down their sides, looked like they had been dipped in fudge. The Ranges looked like chocolate ripple cake. We finally arrived at the Secret WW11 Air Base about 1330. This had been the secret Air Base of the 380th Bomb Group of the American 5th Air Force and the 25th Squadron of the RAAF during WW11. The B24 Liberators were operated out of this Base.
Although there is very little ‘evidence’ of the 2000 personnel who were stationed at this Base, the Windsock still remains at the end of the strip, albeit very dilapidated. Foundations also remain of the Base Hospital along with a few other foundations, but very little else. We sat by these foundations and had lunch whilst we contemplated the lives of the Service Personnel who had been based here and the mission they had been entrusted with.
After lunch, we drove around to the Revetments (parking bays for the AirCrafts) and had a wander around. Don was excited to find a Belt Link for 50cal Machine Gun Ammo almost buried in the sand at the edge of the Revetment.
B24 Liberator from US 380 Bomb Group at Corunna Downs in 1943, Note Ironstone hill (with Spinnifex) in background
It was almost 1530 before we headed back up the track to Marble Bar. It had been a great day. The trip back up the track was not as enjoyable as the trip down, as we didn’t break the journey with any stops. Although the track was not a difficult one by any means, it was extremely tedious. It was continuously undulating with holes that were difficult to see, ditches and dips that had deep ‘V’s at the bottom along with holes and corrugations. There was no consistency, no ‘good bits’ to ease the constant braking. The three creek crossings were wide with deep sand. But……the scenery was amazing!
Monday 26th May, Port Smith, WAWe got an early start this morning and fuelled up at the Marble Bar Roadhouse before heading North on the Port Headland road. We followed this for 26km before turning East onto the Bamboo Creek Road. Being a dirt road, we weren’t sure of what conditions we could expect but were extremely surprised to find a smooth, well maintained, wide gravel road. It made sense when we realised we were on a Mining Road. These are always kept in top class conditions.
We kept on this road until we swung NE onto the Muccan Shay Gap Road, also in fantastic condition then N onto the Boreline Track. If I was marking this track down from the previous road I would give it an ‘A’ with the Muccan Shay Gap Road an ‘A+’. It was such a pleasure to drive along without too much concentration on the road and just enjoy the scenery, which was as usual for the Pilbara, superb!
The Black Range with the ‘chocolate tops’ now made sense. Looking at the Flat Mesas we could see the green, grassy slopes had fallen away, exposing rocky ridges that jutted out over the now declining earth that had slipped towards the ground. As the exposed rock weathered and crumbled, it fell to the ground in large boulders until there was no hillside left, making those strange large piles of rocks we have seen.
Before leaving, I washed my hands from the tank at the back
of the truck and as I was about to get into the cab I had reason to remember that old saying……….be careful what you
wish for, you just might get it.
I had been quite disappointed after missing out on photographing that Australian Hornet when we went to the Hickman Meteor Crater and had hoped I would get another chance. Well, that already happened when we were at the abandoned mine, so I was happy not to come across one again. But, as I reached for the cab door this huge Hornet buzzed slowly past my nose. I squealed, (don’t laugh they are huge!) and jumped back from the door as it circled the truck a few times. I knew where it would be heading for, the water tank at the back of the truck. As I had my camera in my hand I cautiously edged around to the back of the truck and there it was, perched on the rubber tap of the water tank. I quickly took a couple of shots, then whilst he was busy drinking, I ran for the cab and jumped in. Don laughed, but I had seen his huge sting up close and wasn’t about to tempt fate.
We finally got back into the truck and continued North, stopping at a Pumping Station for a few photos before continuing on. The next 50km of the track downgraded to loose sand with deep ruts but this posed no problem to driving, just needed more concentration. We hit the Great Northern Highway around 1230 and turned NE, back into the rush and bustle of the bitumen. An hour later, we pulled into the Sandfire Roadhouse to fuel up and grab some lunch.
Back on the road we watched the white lines disappear under the truck, our minds elsewhere. Although the road is in excellent condition it is straight and quite tedious, especially when it’s so hot. Up ahead we could see what looked like an eagle on the road, pecking at some roadkill. As we neared, we both expected it to take flight but it didn’t. We were almost upon it before it flapped its huge wings and flew awkwardly out of the way. We almost collected it, which wouldn’t have been nice.
We finally turned West onto the track to Port Smith which was very soft, loose sand with ruts most of the way but was an easy enough drive. We arrived in Port Smith around 1645 not quite knowing what was there but were pleasantly surprised to find a well maintained Caravan Park which looked very inviting after a very long day.
Saturday 31st May, Broome, WAWe are situated in a great little spot with plenty of shade trees to keep the van cool. We have spent the last couple of days just chilling out and enjoying the sunshine and catching up on a few chores around camp.
We are looking forward to exploring the places we saw here last time plus a few more of the places we didn’t get around to before. We had booked in to go on the Hovercraft tour tomorrow, to check out the better preserved dinosaur footprints around Roebuck Bay, but have moved this to Monday. It is possible to see some of these footprints from Gantheaume Point by climbing down the rocks when the tides are low but the rocks are very slippery.
But today was just another hard day at the camp, reading, catching up on emails, swimming and checking out the local eating spots. Oh, I did do the washing though, that was hard as it had to be pegged out then brought in and folded up. (O.K. I’ll confess….Don pegged it out and I folded it up. Too much for one person!)
Mmmmmm……I’m definitely getting too comfortable.
We finally roused ourselves and went for a very enjoyable lunch at the Restaurant at the Port. Sitting under the shade of a very large Frangipani tree, eating Slipper Lobster and drinking a cold beer certainly didn’t do anything to raise our energy levels. We sat gazing out at the clear blue ocean, a gentle ripple breaking the surface now and again as a slight breeze kissed the surface. Fishing boats bobbed about gently in the distance and the laughter of some local indigenous children could be heard as they splashed about near the edge of the water.
Another beer?………..It would have been all too tempting, but we mustered up the energy to leave our shady haven and head back to the truck. We followed the Port road around and parked at Reddell Point. A beautiful spot where large, ancient, weathered sandstone rocks cover the sandy beach.
Satisfied that we had at least gone for quite a long walk along the beach, we headed back to camp………….to rest!