31 Jul The Great Australian Road Trip – Part V – Perth to Darwin
I write this from the front seat of the Nissan Patrol (affectionately nicknamed Baby Blue) just shy of 200km outside of Darwin. We have been on the road for 40 days and have covered some 12,000km. The window is open and a warm wind rushes through. We’ve made it to the Top End. I smile to myself and relish in the amazing sense of freedom. This is the end of another incredible journey, the last day of what was a dream mission to begin with. It is a surreal sense of accomplishment and one I silently appreciate as we roll along the last stretch into the capital on the NT.
40 days ago I set out on a dream journey around Australia. I packed up all my stuff and hit the road. The goal was simple, to make it to Darwin and see as much as possible. The first stretch The Great Australian Road Trip – Part IV – Adelaide to Perth was absolutely incredible and led me into Perth super excited about the continued journey north.
Perth was also a bit of a switch over of the road tripping crew. We sadly said goodbye to Nathalie and picked up a wonderful French-Canadian girl named Elisabeth. Nellie met Elisabeth on a bus in Queensland and after an hour convo they were convinced of a lifelong friendship. Staying in touch over the next months, they met again in Melbourne and then again in Adelaide. Nellie knew she would be perfect to join a portion of this road trip and asked her a few weeks before we set off. Lis was super keen and jumped on board right away. That made three of us for Perth to Darwin, but we needed a forth.
Enter Richard. Rich had been with us from Adelaide to Perth and was considering leaving the crew in Perth to do his own thing. Nellie and I were hoping he would want to stay on and join us (with Lis) for the last portion up to Darwin. It was a big ask and would change all of his travel plans, not to mention spending the next month on the road, after a bit of consideration he decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up and joined us completing the crew for the journey north. Sweet!
Western Australia is an absolutely massive state and one I had only just had a taste of at that point. The Perth to Darwin section was going to take us through some pretty wild and untamed country with some of the most scenic and remote parts of Western Australia waiting to be discovered. I was especially looking forward to swimming with Manta Rays and Whale Sharks off the Ningaloo Reef, fringing the Coral Coast, but I’ll save that for a little later. The trip would take us up the coast to Kalbarri, Shark Bay, Denham and Monkey Mia, to Coral Bay and Exmouth, back inland to Karijini National Park for a few days of hiking before returning to the northern coast exploring Broome and the Dampier Peninsula. From Broome we headed back inland and traversed the famed Kimberley Region (named top ten regions in the world to visit in 2014 – Lonely Planet) via the 660km stretch called the Gibb River Road.
It was a fantastic journey and one I find difficult to sum up completely into this one post (I hope you keep reading though). As a diver the Ningaloo Reef was right up there as one of the major highlights for me. The reef plays host to incredibly easily accessible world class snorkelling and diving within an ecosystem totally teeming with life. I was in heaven. Snorkelling just meters off the coast of a perfect white sand beach completely alone with only the fish and the coral. It was amazing and completely lived up to my expectations.
We were able to spend a couple days out exploring with tour operators specifically looking for Manta Rays and Whale Sharks, Turtles and Sharks, and Nemo who I have yet to find. We did however find the other four. It was incredible swimming side by side with these wonderful gentle giants of the deep. The Ningaloo is a perfect example of a wonderful marine ecosystem and is just remote enough that it doesn’t get overcrowded and has been relatively protected from ‘humanisation’. It’s vibrancy attracts a plethora of marine life which all converge in a small area creating great opportunities for intrepid nature lovers to view and interact with the species in their own environment. For example the Whale Shark annually migrates through the Ningaloo and the reef is easily one of the best places on earth to swim with these amazing creatures. That wildlife encounter was a massive bucket list item for me and I can happily say that I have now completed yet another life goal, swimming with the biggest fish in the sea and floating through an absolute dream.
From the Coral Coast we headed into Karijini Naptional Park. The area is famed for its stunning gorges and crystal clear rock pools. It was my goal to bear witness to these ancient rocks and billion year old canyons carving their way slowly through the Outback desert. And it was fully worth it. For anyone who likes geology and hiking, this is the spot. From exploring each twisting canyon and its obligatory rock pool, to photographing rock wallabies and red kangaroos, there was so much to offer in this brilliant National Park and we had an amazing time getting to know the area.
After the rocks of Karijini it was back to the coast and onwards to Broome, the historical multicultural capital of WA and still Pearling capital of the country. Broome is a shining example of a remote community making the most of their wonderful life. The vibe of the town was upbeat and positive with stunning beaches, a lively weekend market, super tasty craft beer, and great sunsets which would melt the heart of the most romantic soul. This was one of the favourite destinations in the WA, so naturally we decided to stay for four days. It was also the last time we would see the beach for a couple weeks and needed the tanning time (obviously).
From Broome we were headed back inland and into the depths of one of Australia’s most famed regions, The Kimberley. The 660km Gibb River Road (GRR) is by far the best way to access the Kimberly and has gained a somewhat legendary status among travellers as the gateway to one of the last true wildernesses left on earth. This place is so remote and full of so many hidden gorges, waterfalls, rock pools, raw cliff sides, and forgotten stations, that it was named one of Lonley Planet’s Top Ten Regions to visit in 2014. It is truly an area beckoning to be explored and any intrepid traveller’s wet dream.
We spent one week traversing the GRR taking in as much as possible and photographing basically everything. From the Fresh Water Crocodiles of Windjana Gorge to the millions of stars seen camping at Barnett River, from the thermal hot springs of El Questro to the ancient layered rock and crystal clear pool at Emma Gorge, the whole area had something at every turn and honestly each one was as surprising as the next. It is indeed an impeccable part of the world and one we all thoroughly enjoyed experiencing, even when the car broke down.
So yeah, Baby Blue decided to hiccup about 500km into the GRR. Luckily for us, she had just made it through a pretty major river crossing and didn’t stall out half way. Also being a lucky bunch, where we had broken down was a busy spot and there were a lot of other travellers passing by. After about an hour of numerous ideas and discussions about what went wrong, we decided the electrical had taken on some water during the crossing and she just needed some dry time. We ended up setting up camp where Baby Blue had decided to ‘rest’ and give it some time to hopefully dry up overnight.
The next morning she didn’t start and my worrying began. By about 8am the sun was up strong and we were all sweating over the limited options when broken down in the middle of nowhere. One thing I love about Australia is that almost everyone, especially Grey Nomads, are looking to give you a hand when needed. We were passed several times that morning with each car stopping to see if we were alright and needed a hand, eventually a young mechanic drove by a made it his mission to fix Baby Blue. It was incredible to see all of these strangers banding together with the one goal of helping to get us back on the road.
After about an hour of tinkering and taking apart and putting back together and drawing more of a crowd, we had still not started the car. She was close though and the mechanic decided he needed a beer (at ten am) to ponder the problem. During the wait some of his friends drove up returning from a wedding party they had all been crashing over the weekend. It turned out to be the bride and groom on their way back to Darwin. They of course stopped and had a look at Baby in her sad situation. The groom spoke with the mechanic for maybe five minutes and they decided it must be something to do with the spark plugs. Two minutes later Baby Blue roared to life and the excitement was palpable. About eight people including our crew jumped for joy hooting and hollering at one another. Big hugs were exchanged and genuine thanks to everyone involved. Looking back at that 22 hour stretch beside the river is funnily enough, a very fond memory and one of the better stories of the entire journey.
After the GRR we crossed directly into the NT and were on the home stretch of the massive journey. From the border we traversed wild and barren country until Katherine where we headed north exploring Butterfly Gorge and the Douglas Daly Hot Springs. The NT holds some fabulous secrets and is home to hidden gems around every corner. I am only just starting to see the possibilities of this country and am looking forward to visiting Kakadu and starting the Savannah Way next week. Butterfly Gorge currently holds the title of my favourite place in the Territory and was a pleasure to return to during the end of our road trip. The hot springs were also pretty awesome to see (even in 30 degree heat) and it was a nice day of relaxing before hitting Darwin and concluding this section.
So yeah, after 12,000km and the adventure of a lifetime it is difficult to conclude an experience of such magnitude into one paragraph. However, it is of course worth a try. The trip from Perth to Darwin blew me away. The diversity and expansiveness of the landscape, the warm inviting smiles, the easily accessible national parks and wonderful wildlife, the stunning coast and perfect stretches of endless white sand. This is a journey more than worthy of the love it received from the entire crew and one that we will remember and share for many years to come.