26 June 2002
On our last morning in Cape Leveque we broke camp, packed everything back into the Toyota and drove to Lombadina to refuel. This looked like an interesting stop so we paid the entry fee and went to the local arts and craft shop where Susie bought some beads made from tamarind seeds. We then bought the girls a pie and had a little picnic in the sleepy community grounds. Susan and I visited the local church which had been fashioned from the wood of mangrove trees.
After re-fuelling, we drove to Middle Lagoon, which had been recommended as a swimming spot. The manager encouraged us to explore the rugged headland before embarking on a swim, and he reassured us that the water was free of sharks and crocodiles.
The headland was indeed beautiful, and there were lovely cabins set upon it with lots of space between them. This would have been a great place to stay if we had more time on the Dampier Peninsula. We drove down to the beach, which adjoined a small, protected bay full of impossibly aqua-coloured water. We went swiming with our goggles and flippers. I pointed out to the kids the unmistakable footprint of stingrays on the floor of the bay, and before long we came across two of them. They were about 1.5 m in diameter and were covered in striking leopard spot markings. Ruby was unnerved by them, but I was beside myself with excitement. I love rays, and these were exquisite creatures. We kept a respectful distance, however, because they are also well-armed with a long, whip-like tail.
We amused ourselves by collecting shells from the edge of the bay until Ruby began complaining that she was stinging from the oyster cuts she had accumulated the day before whilst diving with me. We were also encountering the quickly receding tide and we faced a long drive back to Broome. So we dried ourselves, made use of the toilet block, and set off with a mud map to get us to Beagle Bay via a back road that would cut about 30 km off the journey.
The back roads were wild. There were more sandy roads cut into the land, and gun barrel stretches intersecting at right angles. We approached one T-intersection too fast and made a huge splash of sand and red dust as we veered left towards Tidal Creek.
When we hit Tidal Creek, we had the curious sensation of losing the road. It turned into a network of parallel tracks through sandy, boggy terrain. We found the narrow creek crossing we were looking for, drove through Beagle Bay again, and bumped and slid and roller-coastered back down the main road until we reached the bitumen once again.
The Dampier Peninsula was a hoot! Wow!
Our last night in Broome was a memorable one. We timed our stay so we could visit the famous Stairway to the Moon. This is a natural phenomenon which occurs when the full moon rises over the bay, and is reflected in the mud flats at low tide. The best place to view this was said to be the Mangrove Hotel, which was perched high on the hill overlooking the bay. A market coincided with the event, on Town beach below. In the grounds of the hotel resort, rows of plastic chairs had been set up like a pop-up movie theatre. We arrived at 6.00 p.m., and waited 45 minutes after taking up our place in the throng. Susie and Clare got front row seats.
The Staircase to the Moon was as striking at it promised to be. I expected a much more diffuse pattern, but the effect was indeed like a staircase that was lit by footlights. Narrow horizontal bands of light appeared beneath the full moon, and gradually multiplied for about half an hour, until a distinctive pattern formed. The pattern continued to expand until the staircase extended from the horizon to about halfway across the bay.
After the “staircase” event, we went down to the markets on Town beach in search of food. The same stalls were there as the previous markets at the courthouse. We bought some rather ordinary fare and sat at a picnic table on the fringe of the activity. We then went back for a delicious dessert of frozen fruit and looked around the markets.
When we arrived back at the caravan park, we pitched the tent to save the effort of putting up the camper trailer. Our neighbours on one side had kindly kept an eye on our car and camper trailer while we were in Cape Leveque. Their names were Maureen and Peter, and they were from Campbelltown in Sydney. We had gotten to know them quite well after Peter had come over to our camp to play the guitar several nights earlier.
Our neighbours on the other side were a group of young people which included several Germans. They were in a campervan and tent, and they stayed up late into the night drinking and making a lot of noise. They had been camped on our site the night before, and had kept Peter and Maureen awake by repeatedly slamming a noisy sliding door on their van. On the night of our return, other campers asked them several times to be quiet, but the requests were ignored.
The next morning, which was our final morning in Broome, I got up at 5.30 a.m. and put a CD on in the RAV4. I proceeded to wipe down the car to get the red dust off it, taking special care to wring out the wettex into a bucket of water as noisily as I could. I sang to the music out of key and kept dropping the spanner onto the toolbox. One by one our German friends emerged from the campervan to relieve themselves, prompted by the dreadful trickle of water.
Susie, Ruby and Clare lay in the tent giggling at my antics until 6.00 a.m. when they came out and joined me. The girls prepared and ate their breakfast as noisily as possible while we played a CD by Midnight Oil at an unreasonable volume. As Susan and I drove off to return the hire car, I honked the horn loudly right next to the campervan.
Later in the morning I apologised to the other neighbours in case I had disturbed them, but they were all enjoying a little schadenfreude as well.
While we were in town we checked our email and posted a 10 kg bag of odds and ends back home. We had lunch at a café and took a brief look at an old wharf that used to be used by pearl luggers. Finally we set out on the road out of Broome, topped up the fuel and water at a roadhouse near the main highway, and then began our long southward journey through Western Australia.
At this stage we were halfway through our trip in terms of time away, and had notched up about 10,000 km on the odometer. We had loitered as long as we could in the Kimberley region because it is the furthest from where we live, and one of the more difficult regions in Australia to reach by road. It is also surely one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring corners of the planet. It was time for us to pick up pace, however.
We drove for several hundred kilometres that afternoon, and then pulled into Stanley Rest Area, a bush camp 180 km south of the Roebuck Roadhouse between Broome and Port Headland. According to one of our guidebooks, this is the most boring stretch of road in Australia. But we have yet to find any of the driving a bore.
We selected a spot that was suitably distant to the road, and which conformed to what we call the H.I.O.P. principle (H.I.O.P. stands for ‘hell is other people’). After watching a magnificent sunset, we cooked spaghetti Bolognese over a campfire that was cobbled together from the friable and somewhat scant wood available. Despite the slim pickings, we had a nice pile of coals after a while, and we sang them to ashes.
These bush camps are precious. They save us money, we can light fires, and they’re not caravan parks, of which we have seen enough. And best of all, you can play a guitar late into the night.
The country here is flat and scrubby. The Great Sandy Desert lies to our east somewhere. It was a full moon last night, and the moon has just risen again. It is a bright, cold night. The kids are in bed and I have stayed up late to write and then listen to the silence enfold me.