The North

 

Firstly, we have two apologies to make. The first is how long it’s taken to give an update. We keep getting reminded that it’s been months. But believe it or not, we’re not sitting round twiddling our thumbs all day. Travelling with three kids in the car, feeding, schooling, sleeping, sightseeing and yelling takes up a fair portion of the day and by the time the little buggers are in bed the last thing we feel like doing is writing about all the yelling experiences from the day.

Secondly, we know it’s been a wet and cold winter down South and we are trying our hardest to not make it sound like a brag. So we apologise if it does, it’s not intended. Given – the weather is good, the water cool, the fish fresh and the beers cold, however travelling with three kids in the car, feeding, schooling, sleeping, sightseeing and yelling does have it’s moments and it’s not always an easy day, however there are some good moments along the way so if you feel you can read about some of them without imagining that it’s paradise every day, please read on.

From Exmouth we headed into Ningaloo Station on the newly graded road (Yyesss!). We had 10 magnificent days on the beach here. It really felt like we had a break. Fishing, diving, squidding, walking, kayaking, swimming. We saw sooo many turtles, a few sharks, cod etc. We Met Nat & Morgs from Cowaramup with Abbey and Jai who we had a great hang with. Harvey caught some fish – he claimed the mackerel, our biggest fish. Al wrangled with a giant ornate cray – was a beauty, we got some tasty squid. Kez managed to put a hook through her finger – luckily there was a nurse camping nearby! Al had a close encounter with a couple of reef sharks and an estuary cod the size of a 44 gallon drum after spearing a trevally near the reef but luckily got it into the boat without losing an arm.

The day we left Ningaloo Station, the wind started howling. We were headed for Waroora but we were glad to change plans, be off the beach and in the comforts of a Coral Bay apartment where we cleaned up & had a meal out. The forecast didn’t look good with rain and wind predicted for the next 5 days so after much deliberation we decided to head inland, away from the coast. We were sad to miss Waroora and move away from the coast but excited about the next leg of our adventure. Karijini and the Pilbara.

Karijini exceeded our expectations. Every day was a new gorge, breathtaking scenery, challenging climbs, swimming in fresh cold pools and adventure! And we were there doing it with our 3 kids. Some thought we were mad taking our kids through some of the more difficult gorges especially bare feet but they were little troopers & were awesome and seemed to clasp onto the rocks with their toenails. They had an absolute ball. We got to hang out with Dan and Emjay, friends from Margs, with guitars and wine and we just thoroughly enjoyed the whole Karijini experience. We checked into Tom Price for a night or two to wash out some of the red dirt and then we carried on through the Pilbara to Millstream Chichester National Park, to get some more of the red dirt. It was an amazing little oasis in the middle of dry and barren land and we had a great walk around and a swim in the Fortescue River. We have to say, that the Pilbara blew our mind. Maybe it was because we had average expectations but we just loved the scenery, even the drive from the coast to Nanutarra was breathtaking, though you won’t find it on any tourist itinerary suggestions. And to think that we had considered missing Karratha and Port Hedland.

We checked into a mates yard at Wickham which was an experience in itself, we were treated like royals being able to have hot showers in the dongers, and even given a fresh feed of fish from the mangroves. We based ourselves here for the best part of a week while we sorted out some maintenance issues with the van (snapped shocky mount), and did a service on the ute. It was also a great place to go from to check out all that’s around Karratha, which is a lot. Point Samson, Cossack, Dampier, Roebourne and the amazing North west gas shelf project, and just a couple of bits of rock art out on the Burrup Pensinsula (only around a lazy 500 000 or so), some of the oldest images of human faces in the world, and its not even signposted! Karratha Tourism Board needs to pull their finger out, it’s almost like the town has other ways of making money or something. We just had a fabulous time there and reckon it’s pretty bloody underrated. Kids at this point were learning heaps, from wildlife and nature and geological formations, to industry and our cultural history, beats sitting at a desk they reckon. Harvey may not have the most legible handwriting in the world, but he can identify any W.A fish species in seconds, and then reel off edibility, size and bag limits to boot!! What more does a young boy need to learn? The last thing we did as we left Karratha was have a day out at the Roebourne races which was a lesson for all of us, not to wear white!! An awesome day out, didn’t pick a nag all day, but still had fun. We cruised further North stopping in for a meal and a sleepover at Whim Creek, a beaut little outback pub, where you will find the BEST sausage rolls EVER. Seriously. But they are $10 each!

Next stop Port Hedland where we were so engrossed in the port that we didn’t notice Byron leave the playground near the harbour & run out onto the road. Luckily someone brought him back. Parent of the year award! We had a good catch up & lunch with Adam Roos then on to a magic little free camping spot called Doolena Gorge on the outskirts of Marble Bar. We couldn’t help but stay an extra night at this beautiful spot & we explored the rocks at Marble Bar from here. Onwards & upwards to Pardoo Station – we did our first river crossing at Mullyies crossing on the DeGrey. We all had a swim & found some beautiful rocks. We have since found out it has big beautiful crocs as well. From here on in we had to be on lizard watch. (The big snappy ones).

Into the Kimberleys we headed. We had big expectations of fishing at our next stop, Pardoo Station but unfortunately the weather & the tides weren’t quite conducive so the giant thread-fin salmon will live another day. We cleaned up, spent time in the pool & on the mud flats. Al caught our first mud crab, on a fishing line which snapped (Al’s always looking for an excuse to buy a new fishing rod) & we also hung out with our new friends Joel, Tara, Marley & Lenny who are roughly on the same route as us (or were). From Pardoo we high tailed it into Broome, we couldn’t wait to spend time with one of our best mates Nutty and his awesome mob Nic and Evie. It was great to get back to civilisation and good coffee!!! Good Cartel is the place, if your wondering. We had an unreal time with these awesome humans, even treated to our own wing of the house and a pool to boot, only a stubbies throw from cable beach! Nutty took us down to Ridell beach and we scored a few octopus for lunch followed by a Saints win vs Dockers at the RSL. One of the better days on tour for Al.

From there we headed to Middle Lagoon, up the Dampier peninsula and it is here we would base ourselves for the next two weeks. Such a great spot, awesome swimming and fishing, and met some fantastic crew. Al took Joel & Tara & boys on one of “Al’s Aussie Adventure and Angling Tours” to Beagle Bay to check out the unique pearl shells decorating their church. We had a bit of fun 4WDing to get there & were thankful when both cars finally managed to cross the saltwater creek! (Maybe shouldn’t rely wholly on GPS Navigators for information next time). Al and Joel had a very special day out on the boat which saw Joel ice pick 6 cans of beer at 9:30 in the morning (honest girls we didn’t drink them) and then proceeded to squeal like a little girl as he pulled the mother of all estuary cod into the boat. We certainly got our fair share of fish, as did the sharks. As Al had booked a week in hunting and fishing along the South side of the Fitzroy River with a mate, it was decided that Kez would stay at Middle Lagoon for the week with the kids on her own (yes, she’s owed a massage or two and some flowers [still waiting Al]). Al survived the week hunting – just. Walked a lot of miles in search of pigs and barra, and got a really good look at some amazing country, through billabongs and lagoons and tributaries leading into and around the mighty Fitzroy river and saw some cool birds and wildlife and met some lovely local people and just started to let the Kimberley dust slowly seep into the pores and work its way into the blood. Kez survived Middle Lagoon on her own with the kids – just. Gastro going through the camp wasn’t really ideal (did I mention the massage and flowers? [still waiting]. Byron had his 3rd Birthday at Middle Lagoon & the Nutt’s who had a few days at Middle Lagoon helped us sing happy birthday & eat the cake! Linda & Ross Warburton camped a night with us & we had a great catch up. We made many visits to Whale Song cafe down the road for their famous mango smoothies & coffee! What a treat in the middle of nowhere!

Al made it back in one piece and reconnected with our mob in Broome where we had lunch at Matso’s with the Dunnet clan who were on a cruise ship & in Broome for the day. After a massive pack up at Middle Lagoon it was up to Kooljaman at Cape Leveque for a few relaxing days before the Eastmans came to Broome town. Kooljaman was stunning, the beaches and scenery was captivating, as was the 2.5m brown snake Elsie spotted in the shower, and the python that lived in our room!!!!!! But snakes aside, it was a great few days made even greaterer by hanging out with Dave Mann and Bec Schofield and clan who were the resident musicians up there for the month after releasing their new album. It was such good timing, they even had an open mike night whilst we were there so Al got up and had a jam with Dave which they’ve been meaning to do for about 10 years. All in all, we loved our time at the top of the peninsula, even squeezing in a pearl farm tour at Cygnet Bay (how Al managed to escape without buying anything “pearlish” for Kez is a modern mystery (remember that gastro???)!

Well the next week was one for the ages. Good people and good times. Broome is such a great town but when you throw in some of our oldest friends plus some good weather, it’s a great recipe. The clans are growing bigger these days and our catch ups may not be as regular or relaxing but it was fantastic to watch the next generation interact and they quite simply all had a ball together. We are so grateful for the hospitality of Nutty and Nic, we realise that during the dry season they have hardly had a night free of guests but they just embraced it and us and we cherished the time we spent with them and the Eastmans. We fitted in a fishing and crabbing boat trip, Gantheume point sunset beers and barbecue, countery at the mangrove, and a camping trip to Barred creek but most of all just some quality time with good friends. For us it felt like a real holiday, sometimes on the road it feels like you don’t get much time to relax believe it or not, so to let the hair down was a blessing for us all.

It’s probably about this point that we should mention that the Kimberley bugs were starting to bite. No, not the sand flies or mozzies thought there have been a couple. We could just start to feel ourselves becoming at ease with the way we were feeling up here, enjoying the company and lifestyle of the people who live here, and that perhaps it could be a place we might like to spend a little more time. So, it was timely that whilst we were in Broome we received word of a job opportunity out in the middle of the Gibb River road. A job opportunity at one of the most remote tyre and mechanical shops in the country. So we took it!! And what a good decision it’s been. We’ve fallen in love with Nev and Leonie and Mira and their mob, and the country in which they live and work. We have been welcomed in so warmly by the whole community up here, including the Joe Blakes. So, the travelling has been put on hold. The kids have been attending Wananami Remote Community School, near Mount Barnett, for the past two months and Al has been getting his hands dirty. We’ve been so proud of the way the kids have embraced their new school, including being barefooted most of the time. Being here has given us the opportunity to travel around this part of the Kimberleys (including a trip to Mornington with Cleo Chris and kids and the Nutts, Mitchell Falls and all the local gorges) and has also given us enough of a taste of the Kimberley life, to inspire us to make a pretty significant decision to stick around for the foreseeable future.

We are currently in the process of getting our stuff organised for a wet season on the Mitchell Plateau. We have taken a job tutoring kids doing School of the Air, from a tiny little community, close to Mitchell Falls, called Kandiwal, in Wunambal country. The job starts this coming term (next week) and extends until at least second semester next year. Over the school holiday part of the wet season we will also be caretaking at a tourist lodge on the edge of the community. By all accounts, the wet will be a unique experience on the plateau, and that’s exactly why we signed up. We will be locked into the area for approximately 6 months, depending on how much rain falls. Food comes in once a week via mail plane, however the locals are pretty good at collecting fishing and hunting for their own food (and hopefully ours). We’re really excited to have the opportunity to work so closely with a community such as Kandiwal (Check it out on the map), and to be able to give our kids the experience of growing up with some of the children from this special place. Our kids will do School of the Air with the community kids, and we will both facilitate the School of the Air learning, as well as make use of some funding available for a programme to teach the older kids basic mechanical skills. We will live within the community in a very cosy one bedroom donga (it has air con), which will hopefully feel bigger than our caravan. We are all really excited, but recognise it will be a challenge, and as such are trying to go in with eyes as open as possible. The tutoring itself will be something new and out of our comfort zone, we could come down with some weird tropical mosquito borne virus, and the weather and humidity could break us, but we are prepared to give it a go!!!!

So there you go!!!! Blog number 3 and the trip is on hold!!! It does feel a bit strange unpacking the caravan in order to move into some kind of semi-permanent accomodation. We certainly are enjoying the freedom and flexibility of being able to make these decisions so spur of the moment, and that’s why we just feel we should go with it, especially with the kids at the ages they are, as we realise that these opportunities may not always be possible. We have just thought to ourselves, bugger it!!! let’s just put ourselves out there!!! Although we hadn’t planned on working, by doing so, we can hopefully extend our trip around the country, but also experience unique adventures at the same time and give our kids and ourselves a better understanding of this land in which we live. So, now you know where we’ll be, come on up and say g’day sometime. It’s pretty amazing country up here, and they have an all weather air strip, so there’s no excuses.

One more thing – Since we have been away, there has been losses of friends and loved ones, including our wonderful dog Chevy. Chev was a constant in our life before we had kids, it was heartbreaking not being able to take her with us. We’ll miss her. Loss of life is a reminder that life is precious… and short. We are trying to live with that in mind at the moment. Kids grow up fast, and our own lives are ticking along. Love the ones around you, use your time wisely, and live each day like it’s your last, because you never know what’s around the corner.

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