Expect the unexpected in the outback!
You’ve gotta be flexible in the outback, as circumstances can change in the blink of an eye.
It’s something I’m always saying to Viv when we are travelling.
"Change of plan… you gotta be flexible… just heard of this place ‘X’ – let’s go there", or words to that effect.
Our latest trip was no different, with a scheduled eight weeks in the Kimberley, mapping tracks and updating information for Hema Maps. We had not even got to the Kimberley when our plans started to go awry. It was May so we were early in the year and you must expect the unexpected when it comes to weather when you travel up north early (or late) in the tourist season.
We had camped in a gravel pit just near the Balgo turn-off, which wasn’t as bad as you may think, as gravel pits are generally flat with good access and firm ground. There were a few spits of rain as we went to bed and the next morning it was overcast but that was all. As we cruised north, the signs of rain became more and more apparent and when we got to the normally dry Sturt Creek crossing, it was flowing strongly.
This was the first time I’d seen it run but usually it’s a not bad spot to pull up for the night as there’s nearly always water in the waterholes along here. If you have more time, you can grab a permit (www.parukuipa.org.au) and camp on the edge of the vast Lake Gregory. It’s a pleasant spot and has some beautiful birdlife.
By the time we got to the Billiluna junction, the road was very damp but there was still no visible sign of water anywhere. Man, did that change during the next few kilometres!
For the next three hours and only 60km, we battled just stay on the road, with the camper not wanting to follow us as it should. At the turn-off into Wolfe Creek, where we had planned to go, a sheet of water greeted us so we decided to pass on that idea. While looking at the water, a group of aerial adventurers came towards us from the old disused store that lies in the scrub nearby. They had landed their gyrocopters on the road the night before and were waiting for a 200 to 300m section to dry so they could take off again.
About 10km north, the road was now less affected by rain and, by the time we got to the blacktop west of Halls Creek, there was again hardly any sign of water around.
Still, when we got to Halls Creek, the word was out and the dirt roads, including the Duncan Road to Old Halls Creek and the route into the Bungle Bungles were being closed. We changed plans and headed up the blacktop to Kununurra vowing to come back to Purnululu and Halls Creek when things had dried out a bit.
For the next week, we chopped and changed plans nearly every day as the Gibb River Road, that main artery through the heart of the Kimberley, and other minor roads shut down. Word came through that a weed spraying contractor had got bogged somewhere north of Mount Barnett and had been rescued by helicopter – a day after phoning his boss on a sat-phone. He should have been better prepared for a longer stay, so I hope the rescue bill was sent to the company!
Travellers stranded on the north side of the Manning River were, once the river had dropped from being over 2m deep, pulled through on the back of a tractor, while anybody contemplating heading north was told to forget it.
In campgrounds all over the Kimberley, people thought up innovative ways to pass the time, but some did get grumpy about the whole deal. Not sure why – you gotta be flexible when travelling the outback!
Check out the full feature in issue #103 June 2016 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.