November 14 - 30, 2014


November 14, 2014

Back to the auto electrical shop this morning and we parked in the lot until around 9:15 a.m., when the “Toll” delivery service dropped off the needed parts. Simon and swap alternators Allan of “Autospark”, jumped right into swapping out the damaged alternator from our bus but soon discovered that not only was the old alternator damaged with “ovalled out” bolt holes but the mounting bracket on the engine was similarly damaged. Simon solved this problem by jumping into his truck and taking off to the nearby wrecking yard, returning with a salvaged replacement bracket. By 11:30 a.m. we were back on the road, new alternator installed, driven by its new belts and heading for Shannon National Park and the Great Forest Trees Walk.

The attraction was the tree top walk through a grove of giant “Tingle trees” at Walpole. (I’m not making this up, that’s what they’re called). The “walk” is a series of linked walkways, suspended between poles like suspension bridges. The walkways allowed us to ascend 130 feet or so into the canopy of the “Tingle” grove, with great views into the distance. Looking down you can visualize what the birds are seeing and if you “accidently” spit over the edge, it takes 8 seconds for the goober to hit bottom. The trees can grow to 250 feet or so and are some of the tallest in Australia, living up to four centuries.

Goanna trees and hillsTingle tree tingle tree forestTingle treeTingle tree

We next walked at ground level through a grove ancient trees, searching the undergrowth for Quokkas. We didn’t spot any, not a surprise since they are a nocturnal marsupial about the size of a cat. The Tingle trees are often decayed at their base and naturally occurring fires will burn out this center decayed section, leaving a natural cave at the heart of the tree, with the huge bole supported by buttresses of live wood from the roots. Quite extraordinary and most of the Tingles in this grove contained these caves with walls of charred timber. We searched inside for bats that allegedly made their homes here but again, didn’t spot any.

We continued north to Pemberton driving through heavily forested countryside. Just outside Manjimup is the “Diamond Tree”, a 168 foot tall Karri tree, perhaps 250 years old, that in 1941 had a wooden cabin built upon its crest and used as a fire lookout tower. This is the ultimate “tree house”, easily accessible with a parking area just off the highway. The vertical bole of the Karri tree was made climbable by having metal spikes, like giant straight-pins, driven in to the trunk about 18 inches apart and sticking out around three feet. There was a small platform at 90 feet altitude and the metal spikes spiraled up around the trunk to this platform. Here was a warning that the balance of the climb was vertical and the spikes narrower. The final section was a fifteen foot vertical steel ladder that entered the summit platform through a shoulder width cutout. This was simply amazing. There was no fee for climbing this tree and as I pondered this, it is not so surprising since no commercial enterprise outside of Somalia would take the liability risk on something so dangerous. I cannot imagine that in a modern “nanny” state, where children must wear a helmet just to ride a toy scooter, this exhilarating experience will survive too much longer. The Pemberton visitor’s website maintains that there have been no deaths to date but there have been two tree climbing heart attacks.

roadside flowerssouthern oceanemus grazing

Diamond TreeDiamond TreeDiamond TreeDiamond TreeDiamond Tree

Annette, who is terrified of heights and in the past has refused to walk across the two lane Taos Gorge bridge in New Mexico (565 feet above the river), shot up this tree like a squirrel chased by a cat. We climbed to the summit platform and gazed out at the surrounding Karri forest with Australia stretching to the horizons. Wonderful.

November 15, 2014

We spent the night at Manjimup (Meaning place of water with bulrush roots) and in the morning set out for the nearby Truffle and Wine Company, where black Perigord truffles are produced. The company used to be the Wine and Truffle Company but since 2003 when the first truffle was unearthed, truffle production has since dominated and the renamed enterprise is now largest producer of black truffles in the world, exporting to gourmet kitchens all over the globe, including of course, the USA and France. The truffles are a fungus found at the roots of Oak and Hazelnut trees and are harvested using trained “truffle dogs”. Since we were visiting on the week-end, the truffle dogs were all on break and the harvesting doesn’t begin until next May anyway. Truffles sell for around US$4,000 per pound in France and here at the truffiere, they had frozen truffle for sale at AU$37 per gram. That works out at around $16,700 per pound Australian dollars but I am sure we could have made a better deal for a volume purchase. Sadly we didn’t get to pet the truffle dogs (Labradors) and continued our drive through the spectacular forests, charming small towns, and then up the coast road to Perth.

November 16, 2014

Last night we had stopped in Perth at Tania and Barry’s place and again parked on their lawn, the deep tire impressions from our previous visit still evident. I had made on the lawnmyself a mental note to recheck the rear tire pressures and this morning noticed that one of the inner rear tires looked distinctly flat. I attempted to measure its pressure but there was no valve stem visible – bad sign! The bus has dual rear tires and so the axle weight was supported by the outer tire, therefore not an immediate crisis but we moved from the lawn to a flat section of roadway, where the inner tire was swapped for the spare. This procedure felt a whole lot safer than working on the front wheels, as the bottle jack we used is trapped under the leaf springs and is not such a big risk for slipping.

Barry and Tania took us out for lunch and we all loaded into the car and headed for downtown Perth. Barry then took us on a guided tour through the downtown area, followed by a visit to Kings Park and Botanic Gardens, on the banks of the Swan estuary. Here were manicured lawns like a golf course, families picnicking, yachts sailing serenely on the Swan river below - an idyllic setting. Perth has a cosmopolitan population at just under 2 million, rarely freezes, low cyclone risk, has low humidity and sunshine. Our impression of the city is unpolluted, not particularly crowded and an attractive place to live. They do get bush fires but every place has to have some negative feature.

We walked through the park admiring the gardens and located a grove of Boab trees (believed to have been imported to Australia from Africa thousands of years ago), the largest of which is estimated at 750 years old and was transplanted here by being trucked 2,000 miles from the Kimberley region of Western Australia. All of the Boabs in the park were leafless and we were assured that this is “normal” and what they do in the “dry” season.

Our next stop was Whiteman Park where there was much kangaroo poo in evidence and is the source of the live kangaroos we had seen when we first approached Tania and Barry’s home. There was also a sign at the park entrance warning of feral buffaloes but we didn’t see any and a large black animal weighing in at a ton is hard to miss. There was also warnings of trams crossing the road and there is indeed a vintage electric tram providing tram rides between a mussel farm and the village. Our destination however was the “Lolly shop” in the village and while the kids got lollies, the adults made do with “gourmet” ice cream bars. Barry made one more stop on the way home and this was to visit the model airplane and model “off road” buggy racing clubs. The buggy races were fun to watch, as skillful drivers raced the cars around a dirt track with tight serpentine bends and humps. The cars were often airborne and although there were stewards strategically placed to right any capsizes and return them to the track, there were several drivers so skilled, they could not only stay on the track but pick a route through the jumps and pass other vehicles without mishap. My favorites were the model aircraft and there were several bi-planes that were huge as models and the pilots obviously super skilled. They were practicing for an airshow / competition and flew complex aerobatics with multiple aircraft. The most amazing craft we watched was a helicopter. It flew more like a dragonfly than a model and seemingly defied the laws of physics. It could fly stably upside down and therefore the pilot must have had the ability to completely reverse the pitch of the blades. It also “hovered” with its nose pointing at the ground and its tail vertical and was able to “jump” forwards and backwards using the main rotor. This is impossible. There was no thrust holding it up. I saw it happen. I still don’t believe it. A great visit and a great day.

November 17, 2014

Last night Tania had loaded our flat tire into her car and dropped it off this morning at a local Perth repair shop on her way to work. We had a more leisurely takeoff, since we weren’t trying to get a couple of kids ready for school and by the time we drove over to the repair shop, the tire had a new tube, had been blessed by the mechanics as undamaged and was swapped out for the spare. The guys even restored my spare back under the bus leaving my hands almost spotless. I just had to look old, feeble, helpless and pay the bill. Back on the highway, we headed north up the Indian Ocean coast road and as we approached Guilderton, Annette felt the need for a good beach comb, thus we pulled into a caravan park at the mouth of the Moore River.

Moore riverestuarybeachthe gooey stuff

The park only had a few sites occupied but those that were, seemed to have a dozen toddlers each. The kids were all playing nicely and we wandered over to the river bank and observed even more children swimming in the river. This seems a great family spot, with a white sand beach just feet from the caravan park, plus ducks and seagulls to chase in the park. The Moore river is tea colored and we assumed that we were seeing its estuary. There were ducks swimming next to the kids and in the distance a white sand bar with the blue of the Indian ocean beyond. Just outside the caravan park was a sign requesting that we not damage the bar and upset the fragile environment of the river. A little puzzled by this warning we walked on, climbed a steep path to an overlook and then based upon the quantity of existing footprints, climbed over a wall and descended to the beach down a sandy trail through the bush. From this vantage we could see that the Moore river was trapped behind the narrow sand bar to our left and the steeply sloping beach to our right, with crashing waves and strong undertow. The dammed waters of the Moore were obviously higher than the Indian Ocean and as we walked the narrow spit between the two, we clearly surmised that three grandkids, fueled liberally with sugar and possessing a shovel, could cut a usable channel in about twenty minutes. What fun they could have!

We walked the length of beach, perhaps three quarters of a mile and Annette found a stick to poke gooey stuff with but there were few shells, just stranded weed, trapped jelly fish, squid (cuttlefish) bones and soft sand. On our return, the sand seemed softer, the air warmer and Annette’s tree climbing muscles started to whimper. I quoted, “The guns at Aqaba face the sea, Sherif Ali and cannot be turned round” but it didn’t help.

November 18, 2014

Heading north again we left Guilderton and followed the Indian Ocean Drive as it snaked it way between sea and white sand dunes, through the bush of Western grass treesChristmas treesAustralia. The “Christmas trees” (Nuytsia Floribunda) were in full bloom, with their bright orange blossoms standing up like candles in the branches. The Grass Trees (formerly known as the now politically incorrect “Black Boys”) are spectacular and look as though they are from another planet. They often have a charred and blackened trunk that resists bush fires, topped by a spherical bush of grass like the 60’s “Afro” hair style. From this shoots up one or more long vertical “spears”, maybe eight feet in length and sometimes white with blossoms. “Grass Tree” is such a nondescript name for this unusual tree.

We stopped for lunch at a small cove, parking next to the beach. The sand was near covered with sea weed on the strand and we decided if we owned all of the cove, we would get a tractor and clean up the beach. Our house would stand on the south, on rocky higher ground and the windows would face Africa across the Indian Ocean.

Continuing north we saw several buildings, constructed mostly of corrugated metal and often, little more than lean to’s, built in the bush between the highway and the beach. We wondered if this was legal and who indeed owned the land. There was not much evidence of “improvements” in the various buildings, as abandoned, rusting vehicles really don’t fall into this category.

We stopped for the night at Geraldton, at the “African Sunset” caravan park, associated with a hotel and restaurant. We decided to eat at their restaurant and the view from the dining room was interesting, with a reef a mile or so offshore, no small boats of any kind fishing, just the empty ocean with breakers over the far reef. As twilight approached, a distant navigation light began to wink and a ocean going barge left Geraldton, turned to starboard and vanished into the gathering dusk, bound for some unknown port. I had just remarked that there would be no “green flash” tonight, when the sky near exploded with an awesome display of sunset color from what was such an unpromising, cloudy sky. As the unseen sun descended further below the horizon, the higher altitude clouds in turn became fire. Well worth the eight bucks for the beer.

November 19, 2014

Annette had researched “the Principality of Hutt River” , wanted to visit and she further knew we must be nearby but where was it? The first gas station where we enquired insisted it was, “Up the road, lots of signage - You can’t miss it!”. When the odometer indicated we must have missed the place, we stopped at another gas station for directions. This time we were directed to reverse our course by about a hundred yards and drive some 10 kms. on a dirt road. About 10 kms from the blacktop, we received our first encouragement, a small blue sign that indicated another 30 kms to go.

The red dirt / gravel road was not too badly wash boarded but we heard a curious thumping from underneath the bus. I finally noticed what looked like dozens of grasshoppers fleeing our passage, some unsuccessfully. The roads were empty, there was no signs of habitation, just empty harvested fields stretching to the horizon. Our GPS complained and whined about our course but she did admit that we were on named roads and eventually and after a couple of turns, we arrived at the “Principality of Hutt River”.

Hutt River PrincipalityRoyal FamiliesPrince Graeme and AnnetteHutt stampsThe head manHutt River

The history of Hutt River is simply amazing and has been fleshed out in detail in Wikipedia. The story began in 1970 when the government of Western Australia imposed a production quota on the Casley family, who had been wheat farming on 4,000 hectares. Essentially, the Casley's were told that only one tenth of the crop they had raised could be sold, no appeal. Leonard Casley was sure that a mistake had been made, since what had been promised the farmers was only a small reduction in production quotas but he was informed by the then Governor of Western Australia, no correction or adjustment would be granted. The law had not yet been passed by Parliament so Casley filed a claim under the Law of Tort for damages of AU$52 million dollars against the Queen of England as the Governor was her representative. Casley then used the “Law of Unjust Enrichment” to successfully seize government land around his farm, in an attempt to increase his wheat quota. Two weeks later, the government introduced a bill in Parliament to compulsorily acquire his land or “resume” their holdings. Casley responded by switching to International Law by seceding and declaring his independence from the Commonwealth of Australia. The government of Western Australia felt it couldn’t do anything without the help of the Commonwealth (sort of like the “Feds”) but the latter felt it was unconstitutional to interfere and in correspondence, inadvertently referred to Casley as the, “Administrator of the Hutt River Province”. When Australian Prime Minister William McMahon threatened Casley with “infringement of territory”, Casley styled himself, “His Majesty Prince Leonard I of Hutt” and used the British Treason Act of 1495 in which a self proclaimed monarch could not be guilty of any offence against the rightful ruler and anyone who interfered with his duties was guilty of treason. This was not the end of it as you can well imagine but Australians do love an underdog and despise arrogant bureaucrats. H.R.H. Prince Leonard has kept his land and his independent micro country ever since.

We first met Prince Leonard’s son Prince Graeme, just outside of the Principality’s post office. Inside the building, we looked at Hutt River stamps and bank notes and then HRH Prince Graeme gave us a tour and explanation of the memorabilia. This is still a working station but now focused on sheep rather than wheat. I was reminded of the brothers who built a two thirds replica of Stonehenge in their wheat fields near Kerrville, Texas. What else do wheat farmers do between planting and reaping? The Principality of Hutt River goes way beyond Stonehenge replicas and the various buildings and monuments were very tastefully executed. Prince Leonard I has surrounded himself with all of the trappings of monarchy, he has reached out graciously to diplomats, churchmen and fellow monarchs across the globe and many have responded in kind. The web-site link I indicated above is nicely done and provides lots of information as to the Constitution of Hutt River, Defense Forces, Postal Services – the list is endless. We met Prince Leonard himself and at 82 years old, he is a bright and interesting character.

For us this was good fun but I can well imagine the anguish and stress this family endured, not knowing if the government with their guns and unlimited taxpayers money behind them, was going to snatch away the Casley’s livelihood on the whim of the moment from some slimebag politician. Go on, ask me how I really feel! Formerly white busgrass hoppers

All too soon, we bade our farewells, crossed the border back into Australia,  continuing west across another 30 kms. or so of red dirt roads before reaching the sea. We stopped for the night at Kalbarri and were suitably impressed with the quantity of Kamikaze dead grasshoppers across our formerly white bus. The white panel below the windshield is now yellow and green and we asked for a waiver (duly granted) of the “no vehicle washing” rule, for a bucket wash of at least the front of the bus.

November 20, 2014

A late start but we were on the road again, driving east across the Kalbarri National Park. The landscape was a sea of spring flowers, bushes blossoming in improbable hues, some thrusting spindly spikes skywards bearing orchid-like trumpets. There were sections with no flowers and in these areas both the bushes and the road itself looked scorched, we assumed by recent bush fires.

We turned north again on “The Great North West Highway” and after crossing the green of the Murchison River, the terrain again changed, drier now with fewer flowering bushes. Tania had recommended the Billabong Roadhouse for supper but we arrived there around 1:30 p.m. and instead, ordered the “Big Breakfast”. Fat, salt and carbohydrates with a few nitrites thrown in! Does it get any better than this?,

On the south end of Shark Bay is Hamelin Pool and stromatolites. We pulled in here and walked down to the water’s edge to observe these strange formations.

Wikipedia states, "The stromatolites in Hamelin Pool were discovered by surveyors working for an oil exploration company in 1956 and were the first living examples of structures built by cyanobacteria, the direct descendants of the oldest form of photosynthetic life on earth." The mats of weathered rock we observed looked like misshapen and eroded limestone structures. It is not surprising that they had camel drawn wagons driven over them for half a century before their discovery. The camels had been hauling wool and Hamelin Pools wool shed was the terminus for the area's wool production, where it was transshipped to shallow lighters before being transshipped once more to the deeper draught vessels in Shark Bay. At that time there was no road access in this part of Australia.

The bush in springmicrobial matscoquina quarrycoquina quarryThe telegraph stationphone rules

Hamelin Bay had been chosen as the site of a repeater station of the telegraph line from Perth to the Gold Fields on the western end of the Australian northern coast and was established in 1884. It was not a popular posting for the telecommunication employees of the 19th century. The original building, now used as a museum, was closed when we arrived and an hour or so before sunset, we walked up the low hill behind the station. Halfway up the hill was a lone gravesite of a 7 month old baby who died in March, 1898. As we gazed behind us at the few primitive buildings that comprised the telegraph station (the wool shed had been torn down and relocated some time ago) we saw the empty bush spreading to the horizon. What an awful feeling of helplessness for the parents of a sick child - no "flying doctor" 116 years ago.

We topped the ridge and admired the flagpole, used as a navigation marker by the wool lighters navigating a flat and mostly featureless shallow bay, and before us were the quarries. Here the enterprising local settlers mined "Coquina", a sedimentary rock composed of tiny shells that have become cemented together and form a lightweight, highly insulating building material, similar to the "Pumicecrete" used in New Mexico. The Coquina was cut into blocks using hand cross-cut saws, such as you would use for cutting lumber and the blocks were hauled away by camel cart. The quarry is closed today for mining and is preserved as a historical feature.

We had passed a freshly dead kangaroo on the way in to this location and the Caravan park owner had lamented to me that she had hit one this very morning and damaged the whole side of her car which had just been repaired from a previous kangaroo encounter. It was already late afternoon and we decided to stay here for the the night. (She probably keeps stuffed kangaroos to salt the road with)

November 21, 2014

This morning we asked at the caravan park office when the Telegraph Station museum might open and the owner promptly sent her husband across to unlock it for us and turn the lights on. There were examples and information on stromatolites but for me the major point of interest was the ancient telegraphy equipment. I had seen lots of cowboy movies where the telegraph operator would click away on a morse key and receive clicking noises in return from a device hooked to the line. I had thought it would be difficult to tell the difference between a dot and a dash, just based upon the sound difference between an "up click" and a "down click" of a fraction of a millisecond and today I learned that this was not the method used. Unlike "modern" morse code where an oscillator produces a tone (short beep = dot, long beep = dash) the original telegraph used three clicks for a dash and a single click for a dot. A time gap equal to the time of three clicks separated the letters.

The Hamelin Pool repeater station had a team of men who would decode a message and then manually re-key it again for the next section of line. The labor intensive procedure was eliminated following the introduction of automatic telegraph repeaters, in fact one of Edisons' earliest inventions was an automatic repeater in 1864. Apparently this technology did not make it to Hamelin Pool until much later, however a delightful story concerns the connection of Hamelin Pool with technology giant NASA.

In 1964 the first test of an unmanned Gemini capsule was on the launching pad at Cape Canaveral. Woomera would track it in the Southern Hemisphere using their tracking station on the west coast of Australia at Carnarvon. Just one minute after liftoff, a lightning strike vaporized 10 feet of the telephone trunk line connecting Carnarvon to the world. Some quick thinking telecom people in Perth remembered that the original telegraph line, running up the Australian coast, was still in existence. It was a single copper wire using the ground for return and was thought to be unreliable because of salt corrosion due to its proximity to the sea. This is why the new telephone line had been moved inland. The telegraph line had already been sold for salvage but the contractor had yet to begin work stripping the copper and removing the poles. The postmistress at Hamelin Pool was awakened at 10:30 p.m. by a call using a "ringdown magneto line" (the "crank phone" you see in the movies). She had four months experience at the time, recognized the emergency and thought she had "better get dressed". She then proceeded to pass on thousands of coded numbers to the technicians at Carnarvon station to provide guidance for their antennas, as well as passing data back to Woomera. NASA sent a thank you letter and her employers granted her overtime pay worth AU 5 dollars and 95 cents.

We hit the road again, heading north. A beautiful drive with clear blue skies and a few fluffy white clouds. As we approached Carnarvon, there were emus, goats, sheep and cattle feeding in the bush and ample evidence that they are often victims to vehicles. We passed the huge white dishes of the Carnarvon tracking station and hoped their Wi-Fi is working.

November 22, 2014

Northbound again and we were driving through dry country, with fewer bushes and more red dirt visible between them. Before long, the bushes were gone and empty, dry grass land stretched out before us. We passed a road sign indicating that we had just crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, where on December 21st, a month from now, the post holding up the road sign should cast no noon shadow, with the sun directly overhead. Our latitude was South 23 degrees 26 minutes as we drove by and almost instantly the landscape was dotted with huge red termite mounds – how did they know? The mounds were six feet tall, like rusted snowmen and of course we had to stop to take pictures, with Annette stepping carefully through the Spinifex grass, looking to avoid poisonous snakes. We knew that there were reptiles such as Monitor lizards around, as we had seen two live specimens, one crossing the road (our wheels passed either side of him) and the other, larger one observing from the safety of the roadside and looking on with the disapproval and disdain that only such lizards can exhibit.

We left the North West Coastal highway just beyond Minilya- heading up the minor road to Exmouth. More dry country and a low range of hills to the west blocking any view of the Indian Ocean. Our drive was interrupted, just before noon, when we reached the intersection of the Burkett Road, the latter coming in from the east. We stopped at the intersection to take pictures because....WE HAVE DONE IT!!! We have circumnavigated Australia by driving our bus all the way around! Jo and Humpy stopped their rental car to ask if we were OK and were promptly conscripted to take our picture. Very nice people and typical of the folks you meet in the Outback.

circumnavigated!Exmouth giant prawn

Continuing our journey, we drove the 90 kms. into Exmouth over the same highway we had driven in 2013 pulling into the Ningaloo caravan park where we had also stayed before. The afternoon was warm and we cooled off in the park swimming pool. It is Saturday in Australia, we are at the mid-point of this trip and we plan to stay here for a few days to catch up on chores and plan our next move.

November 23 through November 25, 2014

It’s the week-end in Australia and we have lazed around watching movies and swimming – well “floating”, in the park’s pool in the heat of the afternoon. When we pulled in to camp, we picked this site for its shade but apparently we are moored under the best climbing tree in the park. There have been eight or more children, ranging in age from a diaper dragging, maybe three years old, to sophisticated ten years olds. The latter have designated this tree as “ground zero” and they have a hammock strung up from a branch – with both “ends” of the hammock tied to the same spot – sorta like a “kid sling”. Heads and feet are seen sticking out from the pendant bag with usually more legs and attached feet dangling from the branches above. The tree also hosts a couple of generations of Crested Cockatoos (parrots) who don’t seem to mind sharing their tree with the kids and provide a background squawk to accompany the kid noises. This morning we found a bucket filled with water balloons at the base of the tree but were out running errands and missed the ensuing battle. When Annette gave the kids additional ammunition in the form of more balloons, the father of at least some of this brood, just sighed heavily.

We have been plotting our next move and have made a reservation to take the bus on a ferry boat to Tasmania. (For those of you who are geographically challenged, we are currently in the top left corner and Tasmania is in the bottom right corner. The next question was “how to get there?”. We researched, got all sorts of conflicting opinions and finally decided that we will go east on Highway “1” to Katherine, Northern Territories and then south on the Stuart Highway through Alice Springs. Turn left when we get to the bottom. The reason for the uncertainty is that this is the beginning of Australia’s “wet season” and the route we have selected is often impassible after a couple of days of heavy rainfall. We spoke to one “local” last night who told us that when he arrived at the Victoria River crossing he was stopped by police. “Why can’t I go on?”, he asked. “Well sir, the river is twenty feet above the bridge at the moment”. That would do it.

On the next campsite is a French couple, Eddie and Margarite, from Chamonix, travelling with their 8 year old daughter Loal on a “round world tour”. Chamonix is a village lying in the shadow of Mont Blanc. For Victorian mountaineers, Chamonix was the Mecca of Alpine climbing and the surrounding peaks are still very popular today. Of course the days when you put on your woolen “plus fours” and “nailed” leather boots before roping yourself to the next climber with a hempen rope are long gone. Besides being one of Europe’s oldest ski resorts, it is also a center for extreme sports such as paragliding and Wingsuit flying. Eddie teaches the former and has just returned from a stint where he began a paragliding school in Saudi Arabia at the behest of a local Prince. Eddie had first noticed our bus back in the Bunning’s parking lot in Geraldton – hard to forget with its distinctive, “I eat my road kill” bumper sticker on the rear, courtesy of my co-pilot. Loal’s blog is at

French familyThe light houseIndian OceanEmus along highwayEd MahonThe play tree

We also re-visited the lighthouse on the NW tip of Australia, where we gazed out over the Indian Ocean. You can see there is an inshore reef but off the point, some offshore shallow caused the incoming deep ocean swells to rear up into a huge breaker, a wall of foam and a statement of immense hydraulic power. No whale sightings – wrong season. No Great White Shark sightings and the horizon was a little too hazy to spot the offshore oil facilities. We had driven the highway carefully out of Exmouth as there were several emus crossing the road. We had seen emus in the caravan park, plus a father and two chicks right downtown, eating the bushes across from the post office. We knew this was daddy ‘cos he is the one who hatches and raises the kids. Mother just lays them and takes off. Slut!

For our final night at Exmouth, bush poet and busker Ed Mahon, gave an impromptu performance just across from our parked bus. The “tree kids” rounded up the audience and we sat in our camp chairs in late afternoon, with clear blue skies and sunshine above. Overhead were flocks of squawking parrots, plus kids just wandered randomly in and around Ed, watching intently as he played the penny whistle or accordion and then losing interest in the poetry as the adults sat spellbound. A good end to our Exmouth visit.

November 26, 2014

Yesterday we made the decision to transit Highway “One” across the north of Australia to get to the Stuart Highway. This called for an early start and we were on the highway at a near unprecedented 0730 hours, scanning the road ahead warily for wildlife. There were lots of emus on the road plus evidence of at least one recent and “fresh” kangaroo kill. To add to the challenge, there were groups of sheep ambling across the highway, plus lambs at road’s edge, gambolling and trying to feed from their mothers. We made it south to the Burkett Road, hung a left and then had to brake hard for a pair of emus. One tripped on a barbed wire fence and was thrashing as we went past. I next spotted something white ahead on the verge which revealed itself as a flock of large, sulphur crested cockatoos. The group to the left flew off in that direction and the pair in the road flew to the right but at the last minute, one reversed course and I heard the thump as he went beneath our wheel. What a shame. No way that something as delicate as a bird can survive a four and a half ton bus. Another close miss was a pair of Bustards that flew up from the bush on the right with one turning to cross our path. It must have missed the solar panels by an inch. These birds weigh in at 30 to 40 pounds and leave their mark if you are unlucky enough to collide. As the sun rose in the sky, the risk of colliding with wildlife diminished somewhat when the dawn grazers began to nap.

Heading easttermite moundtermite moundSeed pods and spinifexThe road east

We turned north on Highway One reaching the latitude of Exmouth. It was noticeably warmer and the vegetation looked drier, some heavy clouds with Virga “rain” beneath confirming the low humidity. The Spring flowers are still in bloom, providing a sea of color in places. As we approached the mining town of Karratha, we shared the highway with more and more road-trains and mining “Utes” bearing their signature flagpole and flag, like kid’s bicycles. These people are in a hurry, they are on business and they don’t usually wave. The terrain is of mesas and rugged hills, looking a little like New Mexico or Arizona and multiple dust devils spin in the heat of the day.

Our goal was Port Hedland and we gratefully pulled into the camp-site after a long day on the road. We have a reasonable weather window at the moment but will need to double check before we transit the rain shadow of the Kimberley’s. We noticed that this caravan park has buried cyclone anchors in the various sites, plus the offering of tie down kits for sale at the office. We have heard that some folks will ride out a cyclone in their van but then there are people who will go surfing when a hurricane approaches.

Annette was fascinated in that the ladies wash room bore a recent warning of snakes in the park. King Browns, Tiger Snakes, Death Adders and Dugites were suggested (Annette’s snake book maintains that Tiger Snakes and Dugites don’t live in the north). The recommendation was to leave them alone and contact the office. Naturally snake tracksAnnette went looking for snakes. She found distinctive serpentine tracks in the dry sand of the park, as though a serpent had visited a series of trees. She returned to the bus for her camera and a four foot long stick to poke the vegetation with. I noticed in her identification guide that the Taipan snake has been milked for venom and in a single “milk”, enough venom was obtained that would kill an estimated 12,000 guinea pigs. OK then, here is my idea. If you see a snake, you just toss down 12,000 guinea pigs and the snake should be sufficiently distracted to enable you beat a hasty retreat. So just when are snakes dangerous? I read “in late evening and on a warm summers night they hunt rodents. You should always wear solid shoes and carry a flashlight when traversing the campground at night”. NOW THEY TELL ME!! In future I will use the on-board toilet on the bus - that is until it snows.

November 27, 2014

Today is Thanksgiving but in Australia, nobody seems to notice. We made an early departure from the caravan park, the highway four lanes wide and two lanes width at the round-abouts (called “traffic circles” in the USA, although few know what they are for). Everyone seemed to be in a hurry, driving aggressively and reluctant to give way to a lane-changing, sleepy tourist driving a bus. We headed north towards the coastal highway, passing the white mountain of salt waiting to be shipped, spotted a fuel station on the left and began to move into the exit lane for the turnoff. A “Ute” had just passed us and lost something from the truck bed, so he too slowed as though going to exit towards the fuel station. He then changed his mind and abruptly U-turned to the right (we are driving on the left, remember) across our bows. Unfortunately a second Ute was passing us who T-Boned him. Very exciting, lots of noise and tire smoke and nobody hurt. We refueled and then came back to the accident scene to provide witness information but by the time we arrived, both vehicles were already leaving. Both vehicles looked like company owned trucks and in Australia, liability insurance is paid when you pay your registration fee. If you haven’t renewed the registration, the camera on the next police car you pass will register the fact and alert the officer. The result, no uninsured motorists! What a concept.

Driving even more carefully now, we continued east with most of the termite mounds wearing white hard hats. There must be enough hardhats scattered through the Australian bush to outfit several mines. The need for driving care was not the termites however but the number of cattle loose on the roadside. Added to this was a vicious gusting cross-wind, followed by an intense lightning storm coupled with frog strangling rain. The rain and lighting lasted for maybe an hour but the wind gusted strongly all day. The excitement comes when passing a four trailer road-train because the road is two lanes with a drop off to mud or gravel and you can see the end cars of the road train weaving at you, as the driver fights to keep his rig on the road. If he does drop his inside wheels off the bitumen, then you get a shower of stones targeted at the new windshield you just installed and the new front panel paint job that removed all of the previous stone chips.

The rain ended and the sky struggled to find blue and sunshine. We passed a large and very dead, striped snake, immediately identified as a “Death Adder” from Annette’s “road kill guide”. We noted that before an anti-venin was available, about 50 percent of bite victims died. Okay, remember the stripes – no wait, the book continued to warn that the Death Adder buries itself in the dust, with just the tip of its tail showing. This looks like a worm and is used to attract prey to its fangs. So don’t pick up “worms” either.

squall approachesmove over!

The red termite mounds we have been seeing, that Annette described as, “like triceratops droppings” (- see movie “Jurassic Park”), have changed color to grey, indicating perhaps a change of soil composition and as we turned into the approach to Broome, we saw the first Boab trees. Unlike the Boabs in Perth, these were leafed and some had the hint of blossoms. We stopped for the night at the Cable Beach Caravan Park, which had a light sprinkling of other travellers, or perhaps brave souls intending to spend cyclone season here.

November 28, 2014

We began the day with a trip to “down town” Broome to find the grocery and hardware store. The Boab trees in Chinatown on Carnarvon Street were decorated with large red Xmas balls and I jammed the bus into a “too small” center median parking spot so that we could get a picture. With shopping completed, we headed east again on the Great Northern Highway, keeping a wary eye open for the late morning roadside grazers and watched as a flock of red-tailed black cockatoos flew across the road with their characteristic “funereal” slow wing flap.

Christmas BoabThe road eastToad warningAn outback crabTermite mounds and bush fireBoab in bloomBoab in bloom

At one rest area where we stopped there was a sign claiming, “the aliens have landed” and calling upon the reader to notify the authorities if a cane toad was spotted. Cane toads? It seems that there is a lot of very dry country between here and the sugar cane growing areas of Queensland where cane toads were introduced by the same “all-knowing” government in 1935 in an attempt to control cane beetles. However, a quick check with Wikipedia indicated that Darwin was reached long ago. The dry parking lot at the rest stop also had small exoskeletons of crabs mixed in with the dirt. We are dozens of miles from the sea and I assume that these came from brackish water in the creeks.

Eastbound again we began to see light brown termite mounds that are “spikey” like stalagmites, rather than the huge, mushroom like mounds common in the west. We were slowed in order to cross single lane bridges, a fact that still astonishes us. There are but two highway arteries crossing Australia from east to west and these bear the massive “road-train” trucks, plus of course the occasional tourist. We move to the center of the highway and look down the long passage of the bridge to see if the other end is clear as there is no passing space. As we transit, we monitor the “river” below in order to gauge the level of water saturation in the ground at the start of this “wet-season”. Most streams we see are not yet flowing and perhaps have a billabong on one side of the highway and dry river bed on the other. We bypassed the turnoff for the town of Derby and noted that we are now back in “crocodile country”.

On our approach to Fitzroy Crossing, the highway drops into the flood plain of the Fitzroy river and the trees look green and lush. We stopped for the night at the Fitzroy River Lodge and found ourselves as the only campers in this sprawling resort. We parked under shade trees, while being carefully observed by dozens of wallabies. It was relatively early in the day and we spent the afternoon drifting in the pool at the main lodge. Parked adjacent to the pool was a wireline truck and the only fellow traveller we encountered was one of the wireline company engineers. This rig was travelling east from a job near Broome. Australia has “in seam coal gasification” projects, which is a process of producing hydrocarbon gas from subterranean coal beds that would be uneconomic to mine by conventional methods. They pump oxygen or steam down a well and ignite the coal. The underground combustion process produces a combustible gas “syn-gas” that is then extracted from a second well. If the coal has low permeability, “fraccing” or hydraulic fracturing of the coal is used to provide a pathway for the gas to flow. The engineer we chatted with indicated that their typical operating depth was in the range of 2,000 to 6,000 feet, they worked only “cased” holes (drill holes that have been lined with steel pipe, cemented in place) and that they often used a “slickline”. I had to look up “slick-line” to see that it is a braided cable with no electrical conductors inside. It is simply used to support various mechanical devices for such tasks as perforating the steel pipe, extracting damaged components etcetera.

Wallabiesswallow nestsmonitorboab seedsgrasshopper

On our walk back to the bus, the wallabies paused in their grazing to stare at us. We were carrying large inflated pool floats and walked within perhaps fifteen feet of one animal and yet they didn’t flee. Perhaps they identified us as oversized insects with brightly colored wings.

November 29, 2014

When we awoke this morning, the wallabies were still scattered around the bus and a three foot monitor lizard was examining the bus door. We intended on an easy day and decided we would just drive to Halls Creek, a little under 290 kms. There was almost no traffic on the highway and the terrain reminded us strongly of New Mexico, with solitary mesas and rugged escarpments. The rocks in hues of red, ochers and browns, the dirt an almost dazzling paprika red, the grasses and scattered bushes in every possible shade of green. Our route took us between the Pilljara Ranges, Jones Range, Sparke Range, McClintock Range and Mueller Ranges. These peaks belong to the Kimberley Mountains and provide an abrupt change from the almost flat lands we have traversed from Exmouth. We experienced a brief rain but yesterday’s challenging winds were almost entirely absent.

We had watched some Australian news on the TV last night and had seen that there had been severe weather behind us and a tornado north of Perth. One casualty was a campervan driven by three young Asians, which was flipped onto its roof. Fortunately none were hurt but I recognized the survivors as amongst those who had failed to wave back at Annette the day before. I’m not saying there is a connection warned!

We arrived in Halls Creek around noon and decided that since there is an art gallery at the community in Warmun that Annette wanted to revisit, we would continue our drive for another hour down the highway. In due course we found the gallery, which was naturally closed. Annette peered longingly through the windows but they do not cater to week-end customers and we were not about to hang around here until Monday. Feeling distinctly dissed, we decided to blow off the caravan park in Warmun and stop instead at the Doon Doon Roadhouse, another hour down the track.

mesasBoab at river crossingbush fire

It was beautiful drive and the colors of the scenery were wonderful and deepened as the afternoon waned. We had already stopped for extensive photo-shoots of termite mounds and Boab trees and the day was leaving. The Doon Doon roadhouse offered the most expensive diesel we have seen in Australia and looked entirely abandoned. However, there was an “Open” sticker on the door and Annette went inside to investigate. She soon learned that the caravan park and restaurant have both closed down. We didn’t need diesel and certainly not at the offered price so we headed onwards towards the next available caravan park - another hours drive away at Kununnurra. By the time we pulled into the Ivanhoe Village it was getting positively dark and we gratefully backed into a site in the near empty park, hooked up the electricity and fired up the air conditioner. A long day but a memorable drive through some truly magnificent scenery. “When the Boabs Bloom”....could be the title of a book!

November 30, 2014

After yesterday’s longer than expected drive, we decided on a “down day”, besides which, the bus has just passed 220,000 kms. and needs an oil change.

In the park laundry, Annette washed everything that didn’t move, whilst I tracked down the USA real estate taxes and paid these. I also signed up Annette for Obamacare medical insurance, since her current policy is cancelled by the government at the end of December. There is a “choice” of a single provider, the same company that she is currently using but for the new “Affordable” policy, the premiums increase from $283 / month to $595 / month, an increase of 110%. Then the plan pays absolutely nothing until we have shelled out another $12,000 for the deductible. If you pretend that you live somewhere in India or Europe, for example, and want to buy travel insurance for a 6 month visit to the USA, then you can buy real health insurance for a fraction of this amount, almost a throwback to the ‘60s. But then you would have to add the penalty expense of the 2% tax on income that is, or isn’t a tax, I forget which, for not having an Obamacare rip off insurance plan that is, or isn’t insurance.

Lizardbutterfliescaught one!Ant nestgreen ants

The weather has been fine and our stay in the near empty park is like living in a tropical botanical gardens. We have wandered amongst the coconut palms, listening to the exotic bird calls and been fascinated by the lizards and insects. There is a damp patch of ground, probably a drain overflow, that has attracted almost a hundred yellow butterflies. They settle closely together, fold their wings into yellow triangles and look like a miniature sailing regatta. Suddenly a lizard darts into their midst and a swirling tornado of yellow butterflies erupts, leaving a single lizard with a butterfly in its mouth. If the lizard doesn’t move, the butterflies settle around him again. You can watch this stuff all day but instead, we headed for the pool to float lazily for the afternoon until we were chased inside by a peal of nearby thunder. In the park laundry “give away pile”, Annette found a DVD copy of “A Town Like Alice”, a 1956 black and white movie based on Nevil Schute’s novel of the same name. We watched this movie to get us “in the groove” for our trip to Alice Springs.