Girly Road Trip
Whilst I was working up in Broome, Sanne, my wonderful friend whom I had first met in Freo, was working down in Carnarvon, a small town on the West Coast. After realising we both wanted to leave around the same time, we made plans to meet in Broome to travel up to Darwin together. We met Norma online after seeing she was looking to travel up too with her car and what soon developed was an 18 day girly road trip in the outback.
We had planned to do The Gibb River Road – one of Australia’s greatest four-wheel drive adventures on a 660 km journey through the vast Kimberley. We would be able to see freshwater crocodiles in the Windjana Gorge National Park and swim, bush walk and camp at the other gorges along the way. I was beyond excited.
However, not everything went as planned of course. We were ill-prepared for the Gibb road, not least of all because we were in a Rav-4 rather than a proper 4×4 and in addition, we later found out we had a mere 6 POUNDS OF AIR in one rear tyre which made for a rather disastrous flatty on the rough terrain.
This incident meant we needed to come off the Gibb road and get another spare tyre ASAP. On our way to Fitzroy Crossing – the next large town almost 120km away – we did manage to see Tunnel Creek – an incredibly impressive cave in the national park. The area is comprised of a small parking zone, an information shelter, a bush toilet and….that’s pretty much it. It would have felt like we were in one of the most remote places in the world had it not been for a few other tourists milling around.
To get to the cave you have to climb over and squeeze between boulders and then the dark, spacious tunnel begins with several permanent pools of water that you have to wade through. Baring in mind Sanne said her friend saw a big croc here before and had to turn back, my nerve wanted to deny me. The walk is much shorter and easier than expected – from start to finish, the tunnel is only 750m but it was magical in there with huge stalactites dangling from the ceilings and waterfalls coming over the ledges. About half way through, the ceiling caves in so you get a blinding source of daylight. Lots of bats flit in and out and tree roots grow up through the gaps in the ceiling. It’s lovely to come out on the other side of the tunnel – the sun shines, the birds chirp and the creek water is trickling.
After our stint getting our tyre fixed, we decided not to push on through the Gibb road in case it happened again but to instead approach it from the other direction. This meant driving 650km (7.5 hrs straight) through the outback with not much to see.
Once we got to El Questro however, our boredom soon evaporated as we were stimulated by gorge walks and river crossings before eventually bumping our way into El Questro Station where we could camp and see a number of beautiful gorges around the area.
Almost the minute we arrived, we were approached by a guy named Rob who told us he worked here and would we like to come along with him to hike the El Questro Gorge walk with him and his friend Reece tomorrow on his day off. He spoke of bush camping and hidden falls and deserted valleys and aborigine caves that rarely people get to view. Always up for adventure, we said yes!
Well, our magical Gibb river road journey began here I thought, at 7am in the morning. El Questro is well known for being an adventurous hike, and we were planning on continuing on past the end point, to view even more spectacular sites. You walk along a narrow spring-fed creek, 1.3km through this rainforest environment to deep swimming holes you have to wade into and large rocks you have to use your whole body to haul yourself over. We approached the exceptionally beautiful end swimming pool which is normally where the hike ends, except for us it was the mid-way point.
We continued on, past the ferns and rocks and trees which eventually gave way to the gorge opening where we scrambled up a steep hill, getting pricked by bushes and beaten by the sun before eventually making it to The Hidden Valley – an extraordinary cave system marked by the aborigine people with cave paintings. The cave was like something out of Indiana Jones – hanging vines and bats appearing out of the darkness.
We were getting extremely tired but adrenaline-junkie-tour-guide Rob pushed us on over the top of the next three caves before circling back and ending up where we had stashed our bags for lunch. The 4 hour journey back was a return route and we made our way carefully back, growing even slower by the force of fatigue developing within us all.
The plan was to meet the boys for dinner after showers but all three of us crawled into our tent and passed out all night from the exhausting hike. Whoops! What a day!
The rest of our time at El Questro was spent exploring Emma Gorge (slowly I might add but we couldn’t miss it out) – a truly stunning walk that winds through thermal water springs and ends at a large cool waterhole, graced by a 65m drop waterfall. The experience was somewhat tainted by the hordes of other people but you can’t help these things – it’s a very popular place.
Zebedee Springs was also marvellous – just a short 750m hike through dense palms opens up to a series of rocky thermal pools around 24 degrees that is like something out of Jurassic park. The water was a perfect temperature to ease our aching joints from yesterday’s enormous hike.
We also didn’t miss out on Amalia Gorge – a very easy walk in comparison although did require some rock scrambling and ledge hopping. That’s one of the great things about Australia – no Health and Safety notices for dummies, they just let you get on with it even though you may well be the only one out there and with no phone reception.
We left El Questro a little melancholy as we believed this was probably the highlight of our trip even though we were only half way through. Back on the highway, we passed Kununurra, jumped in Lake Argyle’s resort’s FREEZING infinity pool (the lake is Australia’s second largest freshwater man-made reservoir), bush camped outside Katherine, explored Litchfield National Park which was all sorts of beautiful, went on an incredibly impressive jumping croc tour and arrived in Darwin to signal the end of our Northern Territory road trip!
I was actually pleasantly surprised by Darwin – I was expecting a complete party town, which of course it is but it also has some great qualities, such as:
A night market – with a heavy Asian influence and wonderful food
Ocean lagoon – beautiful setting in the park where you can relax in the sun
Quirky shops and cafes – always one to pick out a good cafe, Darwin doesn’t disappoint.
Most backpackers that come here are looking to party so I was glad to be leaving for New Zealand just a few days after I arrived. It was a different sort of place here, with girls coming out of the shower naked, parties in the hostel rooms and drinking until you pass out. Still, I’m glad I saw the city, especially with the great company I was keeping.
Can’t quite believe my year in Australia has come to an end. Looking back, I have of course learnt so much in such a short amount of time – about people, about myself, about the country, about the culture. It’s been a thrilling whirlwind that’s for sure and an UNFORGETTABLE experience. As always, it’s the people that make your travels and I have certainly met some amazing characters. Here’s to many more adventures!