Day 321 – Darwin to Broome
On the 26th of October, I loaded up my car with all of my worldly possessions and began the long trek from Darwin to Perth, over four thousand km (2500 miles) away. During the past six months, Katy and I have been gathering intel into who, what and where we should see while traveling down the west coast of Australia. Armed with our list, a custom google map outline and no timeline, we set off. Originally, we intended to drive as far as we could before we ran out of money. However, after spending more than anticipated in Bali (damn Bintang breakfast), we decided Broome would make a good stopping point.
On the first day of the trip, after getting a late start because we were under-prepared, we only made it 3 hours outside of Darwin. We arrived in Katherine with no expectations and no idea what to do with ourselves so we attempted to set up at our first FREE campsite in Australia. It went fairly smoothly, Karyn climbed up onto the roof of the car and manned the straps holding down everything we couldn’t fit in the over packed car. Our first set up took us about 25 minutes, a gallon of sweat each and a piece of our souls, but we did it. It was the first time I had been camping since Katy and I went to Kakadu, and I was stoked to be cooking dinner on a camp stove and sleeping outside. That was until I realized that the inside of the car, where our bed is located, was a literal oven. With the outside temp sitting at 38C (100F) at 7pm when the sun was fully set, I was honestly worried about dying of heat stroke in my “sleep.” I use quotes here because no one slept. Even Karyn, who had the tent to herself, struggled with the heat and we all woke up in a pool of our own sweat.
After dragging our feet to cook breakfast and clear the camp, we headed to the Nitmiluk Gorge, aka the Katherine Gorge. I had been wanting to check it out since I first arrived in Darwin and had just never commit to the 6 hour round trip drive. But, when in Rome, right? We drove to the visitors center and soaked up their aircon before we set out in the heat to trek to the lookout point. Any further just wouldn’t have been possible that day (temp felt like 43C or 109F), but there are more strenuous hiking trails through the gorge. The lookout was cool, but what I wouldn’t have given to float in a kayak down the Gorge before wet season rains make that feat impossible due to flash floods. Oh well, there is always next time.
We continued on down through the NT for another day or two, camping at essentially rest stops along the highway before we crossed the border into WA. Everyone had hyped up the border crossing telling us we couldn’t bring this or that into WA. All they did was confiscate our mandarin oranges and a red onion and send us on our way. Fairly painless in my opinion. And for those of you who hear horror stories about their being drug sniffing dogs at the checkpoint, that’s all they are, stories.
We ended up deciding to push on a couple hours longer and make it to the Lake Argyle caravan park. It’s an unassuming little place, but we needed a campground with a shower at this point so we shelled out the $18 per person and picked our unpowered site. In the morning, we were wandering through the grounds and noticed a sign for an infinity pool… in a campground… in the middle of nowhere Western Australia. So I took a stroll up the bluff and camp in contact with one of the most beautiful pools I’ve seen in awhile. It was large, partly shaded, and looked out over the enormous man made Lake Argyle. If I could recommend staying anywhere along thus route, and I wouldn’t put my name behind either of our first sites, I would give a glowing review of this campground for the pool alone. We ended up spending the whole day there, floating in the pool and reading our books.
Towards the evening, we decided to pack up and head our to a site that was closer to the start of the Gibb River Road. The Gibb had been the one thing that everyone who had Road tripped the west coast had said we HAD to do. Apparently we had to do it. So we did. Go down the Gibb they said, it will be fun they said. Narrator: “it was not fun.”
To prepare you for the extent of our stupidity or maybe it was only naivety, I have to preface that we decided to drive down a 660KM corrugated dirt track through inland Australia that is remotely populated and outside cell range. We did not/ still do not know if this “fully equipped” car we bought has a jack or a tire iron. We had 4 jerry cans for extra petrol, and we filled only 1. We had a 10L jug of water, that was about half empty, and a few snacks. Basically, if we broke down or ran out of petrol, we would have been dingo bait within hours. You only live once right…
About 4 hours into the painfully slow drive, we started to pass all the gorges we had been told were must sees. We passed one after the other, all with “closed” scrawled accorded their signs. Worrisome. When we reached El Questro station, a cattle station and resort along the Gibb, and saw that it too was closed, we continued on, increasingly more worried. Our petrol gauge continued to drop. More signs for roadhouses along the way, more hastily scribbled closed signs. Fuck. We finally pulled into one of the closed roadhouses, tried to accost the owners in their home across the lot, were unsuccessful. Poured our singular 20L jerry can into our nearly empty tank. We get about 5km to a liter on good roads, our expectations were not high that we would make it much further. Luckily, extremely luckily, we made it to the Imintji community store where a nice lady named Christine saved our lives. We cruised into the parking lot of the store on fumes on a Sunday, only to realize that they only sold diesel. Cursing ourselves for only filling one jerry can, hungry and dehydrated, we were not in the best of moods to say the least. Christine approached us as we bickered in front of the car and asked us if we needed petrol. Yes, we said in unison. She said she did have some emergency petrol for situations like this, but it would be expensive. We decided our lives were worth $2.40 a liter and followed Christine to a shed in the back of the store where she had two LARGE barrels of petrol. We filled all our jerry cans, transferred them into the car, spilling more on ourselves than we actually got inside the tank, and paid the nice lady. She even offered to let us sleep in the campground next door, which was, you guessed it, closed. She said the power was still on, and we could use the showers, but there were some builders staying there who are renovating the aboriginal community. Sold. We spend the evening, after scrubbing the petrol smell off our skin with steel wool, drinking beers with the boys and recounting our ridiculous story of driving the Gibb unprepared in the wet season. Here’s the takeaway from this story, the Gibb closes the first week of October, so don’t plan to drive it after that. Just don’t.
However because we were crazy enough to attempt this road at the time we did, we were able to meet an even crazier person. A Japanese man named Masa had decided to ride his bike along the entire road and when we caught up to him, he had been on the road for 11 days. When we asked him what prompted him to bike the Gibb, his response was that he liked to be at one with Glen Coco.
The next day, we drove straight on to Broome, stopping only briefly in Derby to fill up on petrol and ice before checking out Cable Beach and checking into a caravan park. We all found jobs in Broome within the first two days and so we decided it was finally time to move out of the car into a hostel. Thus our time at Cable Beach Backpackers began. But that’s a story for another day.