Batchelor to Katherine (Tuesday, 18 May)
Dawn is late this far west, and it was not light until after 07:00. This throws off our sense of timing, as we usually get up as soon as it starts to get light. At home, that means before 06:00. Luckily we only have a short drive today. Katherine is too close, but there is nothing much where we would want to stay between it and Kununurra.
At Adelaide River, we topped up with $20 of mildly expensive fuel from the United service station, to ensure we could reach Katherine. Once again we were tempted by the Devonshire Teas the locals put on in a public space opposite the Adelaide River Inn. We visited the well laid out WWII war graves cemetery, which we had last visited in 2004. This was still being looked after in splendid fashion, and was a credit to the war graves commission. We left the area around 11:00.
There was a side road, the rather unmarked highway 23. We thought this might be interesting. Mainly it was very curvy, did not seem to have a lot of interest to tourists. We did see half a house being transported on this minor back road. Plus it rained on us a lot, which was annoying now the forecast was possible afternoon showers.
We stopped at Hayes Creek pub for a pre lunch snack, before continuing. We refueled at Katherine, since fuel will be more expensive from now on. Stopped at the Woolworths plaza for snacks at Brumbies bread.
Our final stop was at the All Seasons Hotel Katherine, where our room was enormous and very comfortable. A Queen and a single bed, a long desk, and a breakfast table. Two very comfortable arm chairs, plus a writing chair. We have stayed here before.
We had dinner at the All Seasons steak house restaurant and bar, Galloping Jacks. Service was initially a bit slow, as one person was attempting to attend to a lot of people. It improved when more staff arrived. We were able to quickly order pork cutlet (Jean) and pork ribs (Eric). The service from the bar was timely. However we waited around an hour for our meals to arrive. The food was excellent. Jean’s Accor hotel frequent customer card brought us an exceedingly good discount on the meal.
Alas, just before we went to bed Eric discovered the tiny ants had invaded our food box. We had to throw out the box and a few open packets.
Katherine to Kununurra (Wednesday, 19 May)
We had the continental breakfast at the All Seasons, since it was included in our room price. The $11 cooked breakfast looked good, but we lacked the space to eat it after the gigantic dinner last night. We drove away around 08:30. The weather was fine, blue sky, and little sign of the forecast overcast and rain.
The first sign we saw on the Victoria Highway was next service 193 km away, at Victoria River. It also showed the only other town on the way to Kununurra was Timber Creek, about 280 km away. Luckily the Northern Territory speed limit outside towns is 130 kph. The countryside continued verdant green. we kept seeing very nice displays of wattle.
By 09:40 we had overcast skies, with only patches of blue sky, and the odd bit of rainfall from time to time. We stopped at the Neil Buntine memorial at 10:00 at the unpaved Buntine Highway turnoff from the Savanna Way. 160 km on our way and we entered the Victoria River area, and the Gregory National Park, with its panoramic ranges, still 150 km from Timber Creek. We had snacks at Victoria River service station, and later took more photos of the surrounding ranges. We wanted to compare them with the photos we took when we stayed here at Victoria River in 2004. We also added $30 of fuel, to ensure we had sufficient.
We continued on to Timber Creek. We could recall all the parts we walked or drove to during our previous stay here. Fuel was even more expensive here, despite being a larger town. We used the toilets at the local council, which appeared to be the only public toilet block in the area.
The next stretch was 225 kilometres, and took us into Kununurra. But first, we had to cross the West Australian border. This meant a quarantine check, to find any nasty fruits we were carrying. We had put our suspect fruit stuff and honey into a single bag, and the quarantine officer was very pleasant (we were told nasty stories back at Batchelor). The border officer also reminded us to put our clocks back an hour and a half. Luckily the Apple iPhones (like so many mobile phones) do so automatically.
We got lost in Kununurra when we arrived. Or at least, without a map, we had no real idea where we were going. Not that the town is that large. Jean had rejected the Hotel Kununurra, based on our 2004 experience with their other guests (a noisy tour bus group and noisy construction workers). However we soon found the tourist information place, collected a map, and they kindly explained where the All Seasons hotel was. At the tourist information centre there was also an El Questro information area. The staff said the road was open. They had driven it this morning. It would stay open as long as it didn’t rain much.
We had driven past the All Seasons Kununurra without noticing the very small sign on the distant wall. It was a bit confusing to get into their compound; evidence suggests the entrance was once on the main road, but had moved to the side, off a service road. Checkin was efficient, and the same person later turned up on the waiting staff at the restaurant.
At the motel, we again did laundry. Although we had scheduled laundry for Sunday, when we had an entire day free, we could easily foresee us getting splattered with mud at El Questro and running short of clean clothes earlier.
Time for Eric to seek yesterday’s newspaper. He took the map and walked into the main section of Kununurra. The local IGA grocery is also the only newspaper seller in town. To his astonishment, they already had today’s newspaper (unlike in Katherine). He had been hoping to get the Tuesday Australian, or even the Weekend Australian. He did manage to find the Tuesday Australian. Despite changing times on phone and computer He had forgotten that with a 90 minute time change to West Australian time, sunset was around 17:00. No wonder places were closing early.
We dined at the All Seasons restaurant. We both had the barramundi, which was delicious and tender. Jean was tempted by the steak, but at 400 grams, that was simply too large, even if a lot of the weight had been bone.
Kununurra to El Questro (Thursday, 20 May)
We were up when it got light, before 06:00, and enjoyed the continental breakfast at the restaurant. If the eggs had not looked somewhat tired, we probably would have had the $11 hot buffet add-on. Especially since we are unsure where we will have lunch. At breakfast, Eric was advised the Hoochery now makes whiskey, and that it was very good. As we returned to the room, a sunbeam broke through the overcast and lit up the swimming pool, a helpful sign for avoiding rain a little longer.
Before we left the hotel, we needed to check that the Gibb River Road to El Questro was still open, despite the rain. Luckily it was. So we left just before 10:00.
We did some tourism shopping this morning, in case places were closed on Sunday when we are next staying in Kununurra. We drove out to Kimberley Ornamental Stonework, intent on buying some zebra rock. However although there were some nicely sculptured bits of rainbow rock, we simply could not spot anything that would really work for our place. This was a disappointment. We could also see how muddy everything was. Trying to park runs you into mud holes. This made us more nervous abut the Gibb River Road. We were also unsure whether this was the place where we’d previously bought zebra rock (we later found out it wasn’t, when we discovered the correct place).
As we left town, we had scouted out service stations. Only one was listed in the phone book, but there were actually several. The one at the Coles Express seemed cheapest. We refuelled on our return to town. We also happened to notice the service station had 500 ml packs of Chocolate Obsession ice cream. We bought one, and put it in our ice chest around 11:00, knowing that it wouldn’t keep frozen very long.
We drove up the road to Wyndham, noticing places we recalled from our previous trips. After one minor wrong turn, we reached the Gibb River Road turnoff. 26 kilometers to the Emma Gorge resort in the El Questro Wilderness Park. There were dozers working on the road. There were minor creek crossings. It was muddy and a bit slippery in some places. Plus many stretches of road past El Questro were closed by rain.
We arrived at Emma Gorge without incident, checked in, unpacked the car into our tent cabin (raised solid floor and waist height walls, canvas A-frame roof shelter, fly screen ceiling and canvas and fly screen end walls). While we had electricity, this time there was no fridge. Luckily the ice cream was only just starting to melt when we got stuck into eating it at 13:00.
Light rain and the bad road conditions made us reluctant to drive off to some of the other gorges. The temperature (and humidity) discouraged walking to nearby gorges. The tent had a fan but was (unsurprisingly) not air-conditioned, so we were mildly uncomfortable and inclined to complete sloth.
At dinner Eric had crocodile brochettes, dusted with wattle seed. Jean had kangaroo tenderloin and spicy smoked chorizo. Both were delicious. We ended the meal sharing their chocolate mud cake with wild berry ice cream. Drinks were Secret Stone Pinot Noir from New Zealand, and a West Australian Sandleford cabernet merlot.
We did not get much done after dinner. Naturally there is no easy internet contact here, although reception has a computer with a connection. Mobile phone is out of reception range, probably by a very large margin.
El Questro (Friday, 21 May)
We took a walk early in the morning, getting back to the tented cabin around 07:00. There were a number of bus tour groups getting an early breakfast, including Kimberly Expeditions and Outback Spirit. We waited until 08:00, then ate heaps of hot breakfast. One menace was bower birds, trying to steal food. Actually, succeeding in stealing food. It started to sprinkle rain just as we started walking back to our cabin. At least that moderated the temperature.
Back at the tent cabin. Rain, rain continues, road way too muddy to take the car to any of the other gorges or walks. We grumped, and read our books. The food box contents were now more than slightly suspect, and we had no fridge. Throw out milk, some water. We shared some now very runny brie on biscuits for a latish lunch. Actually, we ate almost everything we would otherwise have to throw out.
An afternoon walk for Eric, when the rain stopped, and the sun came out. It was horribly humid, but he was able to take some photographs of the surroundings. Better at least than photography through the rain. Read more while sitting in the tent, until it was time to spray ourselves with insect repellant and go to eat. Dinner for Eric was pumpkin, chilli and honey soup, while Jean had rump steak. Neither of us could fit in a dessert this time. Back at the tent, on our computers. A tent with electricity, and a fan. If it were not for the unseasonal humidity, it would be perfect.