The Journey Begins

We are a family of four with a love of the ocean, snow and adventure.

I hope you can join us as we start our story in 2018

An adventure you can share with your kids, is the best adventure of all

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Travelling around north-west Western Australia with kids – our top 10 highlights

  1. Warroora

Surfing, fishing, stunning beaches, snorkelling & friends. True wilderness camping. Thus we spent nearly three weeks here in total.

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  1. Surfing as a family in Exmouth

An adult surf at Dunes in the morning and a surf with your whole family at Wobiri each afternoon.

  1. Mud crabs and Fishing at Pardoo Station

Netting and hooking mud crabs, catching blue-nose salmon. MUD.

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  1. Cygnet Bay, Cape Leveque

Pearl farm experience, family history and business, friends and a truly unique environment.

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  1. El Questro, Gibb River Road

Hot springs, gorges, horse riding, river cruises, spitting fish.

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  1. Manning Gorge, Gibb River Road

Pool at both ends, waterfall, cliffs for jumping, wildlife

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  1. Bell Gorge, Gibb River Road

Picturesque gorge, lovely huge pool for swimming

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  1. Tunnel Creek, Gibb River Road

Impressive underwater cave system with water walks and gleaming freshwater crocodile eyes.

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  1. Kununurra & Lake Argyle

Hoochery Distillery, boat rides on an enormous freshwater lake, catching cat fish, music by the infinity pool.

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  1. Attractions! Space Museum (Carnarvon), Aquarium (Shark Bay), Crocodile Park (Broome)

The space museum in Carnarvon was an absolute amazing surprise! The kids loved it. The Aquarium was different to many others where you can get right up close to creatures and the staff are knowledgeable. The Crocodile Park in Broome made us even more scared of saltwater crocs than we were already.

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The dreaded (and hotly anticipated) Gibb River Road

Known for being a very rough, remote ‘road’ with numerous river crossings, the Gibb can swallow up unprepared travellers and spit out limping vehicles on the other end. We bought two extra spare tyres and left all our excess gear (surfboards, paddles, bikes etc) at a friend’s house in Broome before we took off, heading east.

The road really wasn’t that bad at all. The worst parts were the fairly long stretches of corrugation with most of these towards the eastern end of the Gibb or on the road out to Mitchell Falls (which we didn’t end up having time to do). Sections of Cape Leveque were a lot worse.

The trickiest and most dangerous part of the Gibb was caused by the dust on the road. With little wind, enormous dust clouds were kicked up by every vehicle which made passing slow caravans near on impossible unless they kindly pulled-over for you. Most did, the ones that didn’t caused some people to attempt blind overtaking and we were terrified of encountering someone doing this in our direction. Further, once you passed a car coming the other way, you were effectively blinded by the dust for about 5 seconds.

We made it through with a few screws rattled lose, a broken door latch and one smashed camper support leg…

Stop 1, Days 1-2: Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge

The first day we drove to Windjana Campground along an easy stretch of the road. Windjana Gorge is 3.5 km long and cuts through the Napier Range – part of an extensive fossilised barrier reef from the Devonian times 36 million years ago. We saw fossils and lots of freshwater crocodiles. Our first crocs for the trip!

Windjana Gorge is the premier place for viewing freshwater crocodiles in Australia, which have massively declined in numbers due to cane toads. They were beautiful and the gorge was picturesque.

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fossils!

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A short drive away, is Tunnel Creek. I expected a narrow creek running through a small cave but it was vastly bigger than this. It stretched a few hundred metres underground and we had to walk through a lot of water to get to the other end. Our torch beams found shining red crocodiles eyes, prawns, small fish and bats flying around the ceiling.

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Tunnel Creek was the location of Jandamarra’s last stand. Jandamarra was the aboriginal man that led the armed Bunuba resistance for years before being gunned down at the end of Tunnel Creek which had been his effective hideout until this time. We also found some ancient aboriginal artwork on the walls at the end of the tunnel.

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Stop 2, Day 3: Bell Gorge

After the best burger I have had in a long time at the Imintji store, we visited Bell Gorge. After a shortish (30 minute) walk in, crossing a small creek and climbing down a rocky cliff we got to the large waterfall-fed pool that marks one end of Bell Gorge.

The pool was very large, cold and breathtakingly beautiful. It is not possible to walk along the gorge without swimming sections of it and the kids were not too keen on venturing too far from the pool. We watched monitor lizards bake on the rocks and then catch crabs and swim across the pool, scaring the life out of some German tourists. Hilarious.

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Imintji Campground

Stop 3, Days 4-5: Mt Barnett campground, Manning and Galvans gorges

The Mt Barnett campground is large, dusty and shady with the bare minimum of amenities given how ridiculously busy it gets each afternoon when the next wave of travellers arrive. Lines for the toilets and cold showers. Next to the campground is a beautiful small water hole/section of a creek which has some large boulders for sun-baking, a sandy beach and a small boat which serves as your transport from one side of the pool to the start of the walk into Manning Gorge. The kids had a great time ferrying people across the pool in the boat.

The walk into Manning Gorge is a long one – 1 hour in almost the full sun the whole way. White spots painted on rocks mark the direction you need to go in and you had to be on the lookout for these. This was our longest gorge walk yet and the kids did really well, especially considering we braved it in the middle of the day! At the end, and in the gorge, was a beautiful swimming pool with a waterfall and cliffs offering a variety of heights for jumping from lame to terrifying. One man found a golden tree snake and picked it up – all the kids loved touching it. I did not.

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A great aspect of Manning Gorge is the pool at both ends. So when we finally arrived back at the campground we could cool off in the pool.

Galvan’s gorge was only a short drive from the campground and an easy short walk (10 mins) in. It featured a small pool with a pretty waterfall, nice swimming and a rope swing from the tree into the pool.

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Stop 4, Day 6: Ellenbrae

Running low on time, we missed going out to Mitchell Falls and instead drove through to Ellenbrae. We visited Wunnamurra Gorge on the way but it was not worth the stop nor the rough, rocky drive in. Ellenbrae is a station with gorgeous gardens, a friendly dog and the best scones and mango smoothies ever. There is a small waterhole where we were attached by midges, but the water was nice albeit with the knowledge that freshies were about. It was a fine one-night stop after a long drive – the hot showers a bonus.

Stop 5, Days 7-12: Home Valley

We planned on three nights and ended up staying six. It felt like home and it is here, near the end of the Gibb, that we ran into so many of the friends we have made along the way. With a huge kids playground, pool, restaurant and bar and hot showers and laundry – we were set to simply recoup, clean and recharge for our next adventures!!

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Best position next to the playground

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Awesome bar

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Still have not seen one

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New friends and a lot of RIBS

Stop 6, Days 10-12: El Questro

We chose to stay at Home Valley, which we felt was a much nicer camp ground, and do a few day trips over to El Questro (50 minute drive away), rather than move. Which meant we crossed the Pentacost on many occassion. This is the end of the Gibb. Or start…. depending on which way you go!

The first day at El Questro we did four awesome activities:

1. Kids horse-riding

The kids learnt how to saddle their horse, give basic commands, and ride them around the paddock. Alex had a stubborn horse which upset her but she persevered once I hid from her!

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2. Zebedee Hot Springs

Amazing hot water feeds beautiful fern-laced, palmed springs. With a scattering of small, hot pools amongst the rocks, we LOVED our morning hot bathe.

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3. El Questro Gorge

To get to El Questro Gorge we did the deepest river crossing of the whole trip. Approx 30 m in length and at its deepest section lapping at our bonnet. We made it through and back unscathed with only a little water under the floors…. (which we discovered the next day curtesy of the damp smell).

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The gorge was narrow with lots of pebbly small rocks to roll ankles on. About half way along there is a nice plunge pool which requires very awkward navigating to climb above and continue along the gorge. I would say that this one bit of gorge climbing was the trickiest of our whole trip. We had to lift the kids up and then I scrambled with a butt heave from steve. We didn’t go much further as we were due at our fourth activity for the day.

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4. Chamberlain Gorge

This gorge is only viewable by river, so we booked the cruise which was remarkably affordable for the family. A 2.5 hour cruise up the river before sunset to view wallaby’s, fish life and hopefully the ever-elusive (we still had not seen one) saltwater crocodile. The best part was at the end of the gorge where they tie-up and give you food and champagne…. Here I stuck my head over the side to look at a huge barramundi that swam under us only to be shot in the eye by an archer fish. Anything that was held over the side of the vessel was hit with a shot of water – they are remarkably accurate!!

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In all, we loved our Gibb River Road adventure and many of the stops made our highlight-reel for the whole trip (see my next post).

Cape Leveque (Cygnet Bay)

Part 2 – Cygnet Bay

The next three nights at Cape Leveque were spent at Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm which has been owned and run by the Brown family for the past 70 years. The farm merges aquaculture and research with tourism and cultural experiences into a unique and not-to-be missed Cape Leveque experience. http://www.cygnetbaypearlfarm.com.au/

James Brown and I went to University together so we stayed as his guests. It was so fantastic to catch up with him and meet his gorgeous wife Sarah and lovely kids. James had a few additional friends up for the long weekend so we all hung out together and experienced some of the best that Cape Leveque and Cygnet Bay has to offer. I clearly had too much fun as I neglected to get some good pics, including one of James (sorry mate)!

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The pearl farm tour was a huge highlight for us. It is great value at $95 for the family and we learned all about the long (~7 years) and sometimes not successful (~25% loss) process of pearl cultivation. We were able to watch as our guide opened an oyster and Chloe got to sift through its gonads to find a pearl. We then learned all about the five virtues of a pearl which help determine its value 1) size, 2) luster (how shiny it is), 3) colour, 4) shape and 5) inflictions (whether there are any imperfections on its surface). At the end of the tour, the pearl that we found was graded for us and we had the option to buy it. We bought it, after guilting some older ladies out of its purchase, and we will mount the pearl in jewellery, perhaps for Chloe’s 18th.

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In a convoy of three 4WD’s and a big 4WD truck, we spent a day exploring private tracks out to Hunter Creek, fishing near the mouth of the creek and swimming in the ocean. The kids caught a few mangrove jacks (Lutjanus argentimaculatus), the adults caught nothing. Wally, Jame’s new puppy took a liking to my lure and chased it into the creek with each cast – I was very worried he was going to get eaten by the resident 5 m ‘yellow’ croc that lives there.

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The beach at the end of the river mouth was beautiful and waves hit the sand bank at the end from all sorts of directions creating hectic, powerful small waves that swept you off your feet. We all went swimming. Alex got stung and screamed so much that we were sure it was pretty bad, however she recovered quickly and with no welts. On the walk back to the car we saw a few sharks in the shallows.

One afternoon, James took us all out on the boat to a secluded tidal island. Alex said it was not an island as it did not have palm trees on it. The kids made shell jewellery and swam while we fished and drank champagne. Glass in one hand, rod in the other – my kind of multi-tasking. The trip back to the pearl farm was awesome. We were transferred to the ‘sealegs,’ a boat/car (amphibious vessel) which sped across the bay and then out of the water up onto the sand and up the road. We all piled off in a very civilised manner onto a gangplank at the main pearl farm reception. Amazing.

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On our final night we all had dinner at Craig and Holly’s (True North owners) base in one of the accommodation houses of Cygnet Bay. A fine ending to Cape Leveque – fresh fish and pearl meat dinner with new and old friends and a few drinks by the open fire. Thanks again James for allowing us to enjoy your peace of paradise.

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Pearl meat. In Holly’s awesome sauce.

Cape Leveque (Pender Bay)

Part 1 of 2– Pender Bay

North of Broome and accessible via a mostly corrugated gravel road and branching-off sandy 4WD tracks (arguably in worse shape than the Gibb) is Cape Leveque. Our first stop for three nights was at Pender Bay. The track in is bumpy, sandy and very narrow. Who knows what we would have done if someone was coming the other way! We managed to manoeuvre the camper down a steep hill and out to the edge of the cliff for a very spectacular set up. Despite our cliff-top perch, there was a short, easy track down to the beach.Road 1

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Pender Bay, run by Andrew and his dog Smokey, is very remote, pristine, wild and beautiful with sharp red cliffs, white beaches and a bright blue ocean. Andrew is a very nice man who gave us mangoes and coconuts and happily let us take Smokey off for some adventures.

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Our first night was perfectly timed to view the ‘staircase to the moon’ from our camp. Cloud cover meant that it was not picture-perfect, but the colours in the sky were brilliant and aided by burning-off in sections of the Cape.

As only four crocs have been sighted at Pender Bay in the past decade or so, we swam in the shallows, albeit nervously and always with eyes open for movement. The three primary activities we undertook at Pender Bay were: 1) hermit crab collecting, 2) beach walking and exploring, and 3) fishing. The girls collected about 50 hermit crabs in a big tub and spent many hours building mazes and castles for them on the beach. They named many of them and had races. They were sad to let them go.

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The fishing was great – on the high or nearly high tide we caught trevally off the rocks. I did also hook up to a big mackerel but lost it near the rocks. Alex caught the biggest fish she has ever caught (trevaly) and was very chuffed! There were also lots of big long toms  (Tylosurus crocodilus) to catch but we ended up trying to avoid them due to the number of bones they have.

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A birthday message for Aunty Nessie – “Love your guts”

Pender Bay – remote, spectacular, wild. Next stop on Cape Leveque – Cygnet Bay (see Part 2).

Pardoo Station

From Karijini we drove 360 km north to Port Hedland where we made a quick stop to replenish food supplies before driving another 160 km east to Pardoo Station. After the red dirt of Karijini, the green grass and palm trees were a very welcome sight.

What a little oasis in the middle of the Pilbara! The station is a 200,000-hectare working cattle property spanning spinifex plains, tidal flats and creeks. The first place that we have stopped at where you cannot swim for fear of being eaten by crocodiles and bull sharks.

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The campground was grassy and shady with (another) freezing pool, 24-hour laundry (hallelujah) and a seemingly disproportionately high number of showers for the 130 caravan sites. They also do buffet dinners in their restaurant and at $30 per adult and the kids charged according to their age – it was awesome value. The girls ate their weight in chocolate mousse and ice cream.

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Pardoo is the perfect place to get clean, relax in comfort, explore beaches and creeks and, of course, fish. The tides were quite large and the best fishing was about 2 hours either side of the rising or falling tide. We were primarily chasing threadfin salmon but would have also been happy with a mangrove jack or barramundi. All proved reasonably tricky to catch but we had success with a heavy sinker, largish hook and mulies (pilchards/sardines). With our last two bits of bait Steve and Chloe hooked good-sized bluenose threadfin salmon each.

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The achievement was somewhat dampened by another guy who caught an 11 kg giant threadfin salmon about 1 minute later on a whiting hook and using a pipi for bait. Go figure.

Fishing along Pardoo creek also meant 1) mud and 2) mud crabs. I learned that while I do not like dirt, I quite liked the clay-mud. Clearly the kids did too and they spent hours jumping off ledges into it. It washes off super-easy.

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Steve was really keen to hook a mud crab but we did not have the implements, i.e. a hook. He sabotaged my broom in an attempt to fashion one which did not work at all. However, he did manage to prod one (that was right out in the open) into our bucket. It ended up being a male and a female together – so we got two in one go! We also kept a few crab pots in the creek while we fished and caught a few this way.

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Pardoo was teeming with wildlife – sharks, fish, mud snakes (%#*(%&(#*), hermit crabs, heaps of other crabs, etc etc. Aside from the snakes, none of them particularly bothered me at all!

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It was nice to walk out on the beaches at low tide and collect shells and to see all sorts of creatures in the rock pools and on the tidal flats. Pardoo was amazing and we hope to be back sometime.

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Surviving & Enjoying Karijini – with kids

I did like Karijini, of course it is very beautiful, but I would have been happy to spend two full days there and move on. We did four nights and it was a little too long for me (Steve says it is because I do not like dirt).

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Termite mound

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Red dirt & mud (#%@&@(#*%&)

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Dirty, hairy, bushman

The highlights

1. Dales Gorge – Fortescue falls, Fern pool (look out for fairies!), Circular Pool. A great place to spend a day hiking.

Fern pool was my favourite pool for swimming as the temperature was bearable (just) and the waterfall was beautiful. Little fish nibbled the dirt off our feet at the jetty. We did Fern pool twice, once on our own and then we returned with new friends (the Billings).

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Circular pool was also gorgeous but so cold that it felt like your skin was on fire. I lasted about 20 seconds. The kids did not make it past their ankles.

2. Hancock and Weano Gorges – Hancock was our favourite. Vertical, narrow and breathtakingly beautiful. We had to walk through water, spider climb through crevices, navigate slippery ledges and climb vertical ladders. Such an amazing adventure for the kids.IMG20180518111753

Alex – Hancock Gorge Sass

The scenery. The mornings are still, clear and the distant hills picturesque, the night stars reach the horizon in all directions.

Recommendations for those experiencing Karijini with kids:

  1. Bring dark clothing and socks. Your whites will never be the same again after experiencing the Karijini red dirt. Try not to be too precious about the dirt. Keeping it out of the camper/car is a battle you will never win.
  2. In May, the nights were freezing cold. I wore tracksuit pants, a long sleeve top, jumper and socks to bed and slept under a doona with an extra blanket and sleeping bag. I do not feel the cold often, but I sure felt it in the Karijini night.
  3. Have a game plan (positive story) about the dingoes when they inevitably wake you all up in the middle of the night howling and growling. Beautiful, thrilling, haunting. Sound travels far and well at Karijini.
  4. Have good footwear and socks for the kids. Alex’s Rossi boots rubbed her legs raw (through socks) and I had to carry her 2 km uphill out of the gorge. Fulfilled my exercise quota.
  5. Your lips and skin get very, very dry. The kids even got eczema-like rashes, as did the kids camped next to us because of this. Moisturiser up, but just in the evening, as you don’t want to leave an oil slick in the gorge pools.
  6. Our kids easily managed the two hardest (Class 5) gorge climbs in one day and only winged after about 3 hours of walking and on the way back to the car. They were like little ninja warriors across the wobbly rocks.
  7. Booties (reef shoes), were handy for Hancock gorge where you have to walk through a lot of water.
  8. The kids got the Karijini National Park Junior Rangers activity books from the camp hosts at Dales campground. You can also get them at the visitor centre. They were fantastic and well suited to kids aged 5-10.

Warroora

A neighbour asked me why anyone would go to Warroora as there is nothing there except snorkelling, surfing and fishing. I think he answered his own question.

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For Warroora you need a chemical toilet, a 4WD and to make the most of it you ideally want to have a small boat. Camping fees are cheap at $10 per night per adult and kids are free. The station managers are doing a good job of keeping the area clean and looked after and have strict rules to ensure this.

With respect to those who have been coming here for years, I am not going to mention names of places. We stayed right behind the dunes at a beach perfect for little kids and not accessible by large caravans.

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As is typical of Western Australia, we camped right next to a friend from my surf shop days at Rottnest Island – Sarah Ellis, who was there with her lovely family – husband Matt and two girls, Grace and Sailor. Sarah surfs (rips actually), they had a boat, and we therefore had surfing buddies and the kids had playmates for three days. Sarah and Matt own and run Ningaloo Discovery – an awesome company in Exmouth for whaleshark and humpback adventures. https://www.ningaloodiscovery.com.au/

A short boat ride and we had THE BEST WAVES we have had in a long time, perhaps ever. The first day was big (5-6 foot) with a few rogue large sets that cleaned everyone up, despite the channel. I came out a little worse for wear with bruised wrists a bump to the head and a large bruise on my leg. The next day was better, half the size. Sarah and I surfed twice that day for about 5 hours in total. At one point it was glassy and there were just the two of us out with our pick of head-high long lefts.

The men and kids watched from the boat one arvo, which really boosted an appreciation of surfing in the kids and has planted a froth-seed in Chloe. After I could not paddle anymore, we had a brief snorkel and a majestic encounter with a Dugong and her calf. Incredible. Thank you Sarah for the amazing photos.

Dugongs

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Cute little native hopping mice visited us each night. They had huge black eyes and a straight tail with a tuft of fur on the end. Horrible, oversized grasshoppers also visited. I did not like these! Flies were not a problem at all here.

We will see you on our way home Warroora.