impropa geese and propa ganda
we’d heard all the b.s. (bird stories) about the aussie outback. but our arrival in australia’s great northwest was delayed several months by the avian flu scare (aka covid). now, however, the scare is over (not covid, only the scare) and everyone in oz is emu-nized. so pernille’s off work for a change and the trip is on
two weeks chasing ravens, rocks and rivulets in the kimberley! ravens were scarce, but oy! the bodacious badlands! the wondrous wetlands! until recently every aussie school kid was weaned on stories of hardy drovers marching cattle across vast stretches of parched red earth through the kimberley to the west coast. now we know. they’re just stories.
even so, coverage maps of mobile phone service show a huge blank spot encompassing most of australia’s northwest coastal region. an area larger than many countries. that’s no yoke. it’s terra incognita for cell phones.
the travel agents we booked with don’t have an office in the kimberley. they’re not bird-brains. they’re safely in adelaide, half the continent away.
on the agent’s recommendation, we hire a “high clearance” four wheel drive toyota s.u.v. in broome, the jumping off point for our adventure. we’re advised to carry two spare tires. one is often not enough. that’ll be an additional $22.50, thank you. per day.
then legend meets realit
every empty nester in australia must be exploring the kimberley this season. with the covid scare officially in the rear view mirror, it seems all the country’s elderly have flown the coop. retirement communities have been emptied out, their inmates loaded into “high clearance four wheel drive” busses and carted off to the tropics by fly-by-night tour operators. some of these old folks may even still remember the historiography they learned in school, half a century ago. but if those yarns were ever true, they’re hyperbole today. toyota has tamed the outback and every cattle station in the kimberley employs a chef serving five-star fare, including vegan and lactose free options.
truth to tell , the clientele for the kimberley is the aussie version of my generation. baby boomers. camping is out; “glamping” is in.
june is the dry. tropically wintry. heavenly days, deliciously cool nights. few birds (by comparison to the wet). for twitchers like us, the place for acclimating to the region is broome, on the western edge of the wilds. for our three-day introductory, there’s not a cloud in the sky, an unkind puff of wind, nor an intemperate u.v. rating. only winged creatures. and sunsets to set the sky on fire.
we can handle broome, a seaside town of 16,000 hardy souls who survive the summer sauna, guarding their precious cable beach. the population balloons to 50,000 in winter as the town becomes a tourist mecca. it’s a lark.
in search of a perch for our twitching (birdwatching), we’ve sought out the broome bird observatory. the birds may be free; the observatory is not. we’re paying for the privilege of traveling on these lands, which are under control of the traditional owners and used only by permission. we suck it up and take out a second mortgage for an officially sanctioned tour of the lakes. it was more than worth it.
some assembly is required, and a group of seven assembles at the observatory headquarters at sunup on the appointed day; three young guides, ben, max and patrick, (ben’s at the top of the pecking order). there’s also another couple who’ve signed up for the ride, chris and kerry. i’m seated next to kerry in the land cruiser we’re traveling in, and i ask what they do for a living. “chris is an ornithologist,” she replies. ooooh! they’re not just “another couple”.
later, back in our b&b, we refer to the reference book for all birdly things in the kimberley, and there’s chris, with thankful tributes to him from the authors. he’s not AN ornithologist, he’s THE top ornithological authority in this part of the world. chris hassell is with us.
our land cruiser is stuffed with gear, including five professional birding telescopes. each of us also has a pair of multi-thousand dollar binoculars. and the birds are in full wing. as frank sinatra might have sung, ‘egrets, we had a few’, (actually lots), and brolgas galore, a black bittern, finches, hooded robins, bee eaters, species so numerous pernille missed a few because she was so busy writing down everything she saw.
the grand total for the day was more than 80. even chris was clucking.
after three days, we swept out of broome and hung our hats in derby, an unremarkable community at the western terminus of the teeth-chattering gibb river road, the g.r.r.. the most remarkable thing about derby was the one hour and 45 minute wait we endured for our dinner order. but we didn’t get g-r-r-umpy.
the gibb, as it’s known, is mostly g-r-r-eat. it winds through gulleys and gorges along towering cliffs to kununurra, nearly 700 km to the east. it’s not that the surface is rocky, no. but dentists are doing land-office business repairing loose fillings at either end of the corrugated gravel trail. (that’s a yoke)
with eyes to the skies, we did catch a full moon rising over mt. elizabeth, a rustic cattle station at about the halfway point of the gibb.
amid the flora and fauna, boab trees are a distinguishing feature of the countryside. they practically beg photographers for a click in passing.
for the birders among us, the hidden crown jewel, the g.r.r.eatest part of the gibb experience is parry’s farm lagoon, which is actually past the official east end of the gibb. a twitcher’s delight. g-r-reat food, too at the farmhouse cafe next to the swimming pool.
last stop – the bungles. no, not a mistake, but a geological wonder. getting to bungle bungles (in purnululu national park) requires a 100km round trip over the g-r-r-umpiest stretch of the road in the region. they’re a gem, though. worth the effort.
toward the east end of the gibb, around the el questro wilderness park, the dusty corrugated trail gives way to modern paved bitumen (bitty) highway, a hint of what the kimberley may look like in another few years as road construction crews have their way. it’s progress.
for now, the last vestiges of the hard, good life are still there for the taking, but you’ll have to share them with the retirement crowd.
in the end we got away without a tire puncture. only a dental exam. next time we’ll have our heads examined.
Pete, another great adventure. Thanks for sharing it with us.