28 June–1 July 2002
We chose Cape Keraudren as our next stop rather than Eighty Mile Beach Caravan Park, because it seemed likely to be a more interesting camping proposition. Our guidebook had forewarned us that there was no wood to be had on the Cape, but fires were permitted, so after a few hours we stopped at a roadside rest area in the hope of collecting some wood. I struck gold – a dead tree by the side of the highway. This was not the scrappy brush from the night before, but a beautiful, golden, close-grained timber that I chopped into transportable lengths.
While we were pulled over, our neighbours from Tarangau Caravan Park, Maureen and Peter, spotted us, and pulled off the highway in their Nissan Patrol with the caravan in tow. They decided to accompany us to the Cape, so we set off with them to the next petrol stop, Sandfire Roadhouse. There we refuelled and picked up some supplies and drove on to Pardoo Roadhouse, where we did the same again, topping up our water tanks, as both fresh water and wood were unavailable on the Cape. We hit the road, and then the dirt. The turnoff to the Cape was only 100 m from the roadhouse.
The road to Cape Keraudren was dusty and corrugated, but pretty good compared to some of the roads we had encountered further North in the Kimberley. We drove to the furthest camping area and then split up. Peter and I went with the girls to find a suitable camping area, whilst Susan and Maureen stayed with the caravan, trailer, and the Nissan Patrol. Most of the campsites were quite unsuitable, being either too rough a spot for the caravan, or too uneven a spot for the camper trailer. I almost destroyed a front tyre whilst we were investigating a rather rocky rugged area that faced due East.
Finally we decided on a spot at the north end of Sandy Beach, with lovely views to the northwest. We set up camp and then had dinner in Maureen and Peter’s caravan. They cooked some bream which they had caught, and we made a salad. Maureen also made some chips. It was a fine meal – one of the nicest we’ve had on our trip. The fresh fish was a real treat, cooked on the bone and wrapped in foil on a gas barbeque.
After dinner we lit a campfire and sat around talking, and Peter and I took turns singing songs on the guitar. Peter was a Vietnam Veteran. He had a lot of tattoos and was still dealing with post-traumatic stress from the war. Maureen also got regular counselling. They lived in Sydney and saved for long motoring trips. Peter sang sentimental, country-style songs, some of which he had written himself, and some of which were clearly about the comradeship and sadness of the returned solider. We enjoyed their company, and I think they enjoyed ours. They certainly found Ruby and Clare to be charming and well-behaved kids, which they are.
The next morning Ruby and Clare worked on their schoolwork until late morning, and then we went for a walk along the beach, which was actually the southern-most tip of 80 Mile Beach. We collected shells amongst the rock pools and the tidal flats, and found lots of fabulous shells, including sand dollars, which we put aside for presents. Peter ascertained which parts of the beach would be good for fishing, and we then turned back to the camp for lunch. When high tide began to roll in, Peter and I set out with the girls to the chosen fishing spot. Susie retired to the tent with a migraine that was to last on and off for several days.
Down on the beach the tide was almost at its peak. Peter showed us how to operate the fishing rods. I borrowed one of his and the kids shared the collapsible rod that Dick Cornish had lent us for the trip. Peter got lots of bites, but landed no fish. I lost two sets of hooks and sinkers on snags. I also landed two small but handsome bream, plus a catfish, which I note has been re-named for the restaurant industry.
Ruby soon got bored and returned to camp to do some schoolwork. Clare loved it however, and persisted with the collapsible rod, although I’m not quite sure she would have known what to do if she had hooked a fish. When she tired of holding the rod, she guarded the bait from seagulls, which was incredibly helpful, and then poked at the fish in the bucket. It got really hot on the beach as the afternoon wore on. Ruby wanted to go for a swim, but I wouldn’t let her go further than waist deep. She had no footwear on, and having seen the beach at low tide, it was an eye-opener. There were sharp rocks everywhere, many covered in oysters. And the ranger had sighted deadly stone fish in the area.
When the tide was well on the way out, we headed back to camp. I insisted that Peter take the bream, as this was not enough to feed the four of us, but it was enough for him and Maureen. He grudgingly accepted, but later passed them on to a young English couple who were camped next to him. He and Maureen were very generous neighbours.
That evening Susan and I cooked up a big meal of beans and rice flavoured with hot salami – a favourite meal of ours on the road, and we shared it with Peter and Maureen to return their hospitality. We all ate around a campfire built of the wonderful hardwood I had collected on the road south. It made fabulous coals, and Susan made a damper to go with the beans in the camp oven. After dinner we played more music while Ruby and Clare were still awake. Peter played Morningtown Ride, much to the girls’ delight, as they could sing along. He also played Where Have All the Flowers Gone, which was especially poignant when sung by a Vietnam Veteran. Susan and I sat up late enjoying the last of the coals after everybody else had gone to bed.
Sunsets at Cape Keraudren were especially lovely. The sea would turn the exact shade of pink you find inside an abalone shell, and the sky would take on the rest of the colours. The rugged shoreline was silhouetted against this wonderful display, so when people ascended the small hill near our camp to take photographs, they would appear as a black shadow against all the colours of mother-of-pearl.
Cape Keraudren was a tricky camp, partly due to the fact that we were camping in sand, and partly due to the wind. The fly screens on our annexe were effective in keeping the wind out, and the shade cloth on the floor helped to suppress the sand. But by our third morning we were ready to push on to Port Headland. Getting the tent packed away was a bit of a struggle, but we’re old hands at it now. We arranged to meet Maureen and Pete at a caravan park at South Headland, and we pulled out about an hour after they left.
Port Headland was mainly a service stop for us. We desperately needed a laundry, and we also needed to stock up on food supplies. We drove directly to the port past the giant Dampier Salt Factory, and picked up some pamphlets at a tourist information office. We then ascended the observation tower out the back (after signing a ridiculous legal disclaimer) which afforded a wonderful view of the port and its surrounds. Off the coast, several giant cargo ships awaited their loads of salt and iron ore. Below, the extraordinary infrastructure for loading iron ore was laid out, including tug boats with roofs fashioned from the deep maroon-coloured metal.
After the viewing, we descended for pies and hamburgers from an awful diner. We then set out for South Headland. The caravan park must have been designed by the same person who designed the Curtin Detention Centre. Even the kids pointed out the similarity. We put on two loads of washing, and headed for the local supermarket, which was truly enormous. After stocking up, we returned to the camp and cooked dinner. All the locals were hyper-vigilant due to an attempted burglary of the tent adjacent to ours. Apparently the Police had the place under surveillance from one of the caravans. I made sure that all our gear was stowed away securely that night.
The next morning we bade farewell to Maureen and Peter who were continuing south along the main highway. We were about to turn inland and head into the Pilbara for 600 km. On our way out of town, we stopped for petrol and ice, and then set out towards Karajini National Park.
The road to Karajini was also the road to Newman, so it is traversed by road trains, and the men and women who work on the mines. None are good company on the road. We pulled into Sasky Roadhouse late morning to refuel at the last fuel stop for a long while. We were only 40 km or so from Wittenoom, and debated the pros and cons of going there. Susie argued that it was too late in the day for a visit unless we also camped, so we pressed on towards Karajini, climbing steadily through the hot, picturesque hills.
On reaching Karajini NP, we went straight to the impressive visitor’s centre and booked ourselves into a campsite at Dales Gorge campground. It’s a great camping area, with good toilets and lots of space between the camping sites. We were surprised at how cold it got once the sun dipped below the horizon. At night the ambient temperature dropped below zero degrees. On the first night Susie cooked sausages and had to do battle with an uncooperative barbeque. No fires are allowed here.