overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

The wait for the 'Grey Nomads'

Written by Maz Towns. Uploaded 29 January 2007.

Australia, Country 26, Diary entry 6th - 10th Dec 2006, Total distance in Australia: Unknown, Distance to date: 13,956KM

On hitting tar, it wasn't long before we reached our next site - the Boab Prison Tree. It's a big tree but a tiny prison! The Boab tree itself is an anomaly of Australian fauna and found only in the Kimberley and Victoria region of the Northern Territory. No one is really sure how they came to be here, but a local story tells that the Boab tree used to be a magnificently proportioned tree that formed too high an opinion of itself and grew too close to heaven. This displeased the gods so much that they pulled it out of the ground and thrust it back upside down! It really does look like an upside down tree, with gnarled spidery branches reaching towards the sky. The prison tree is said to be over a 1000 years old. It has a girth of 14m and was used as an overnight cell for prisoners on their way to Derby gaol.

We carried on to Broome for sunset on cable beach. A few people were milling around, walking their dogs or playing footy. We pitched up with a drink and snack and watched the skyline turn a hazy pink as the gigantic golden sphere disappeared into the sea. On returning to the car, we walked past a sign which made us chuckle. Since arriving in Oz, all we see are 'rules and regulations', the majority informing the passer-by of what they're NOT allowed to do. This one was the cream of the crop so far; there were so many things that you weren't allowed to do, I can't even begin to list them, but no word of a lie, we counted over 20! The sunset over Cable Beach

We found camp just north of town after wrestling with the running lights, yet another casualty of the Gibb River Road which now keep constantly blowing the fuse! Chancing having no rear lights, we drove down a dirt track where we settled for the night with pork chops, mash and a lovely glass of Chardonnay. You may have noticed that we have mentioned the amber nectar a few times now. Since leaving the UK, wine has been hard to come by, not to mention expensive when we have found it. It was definitely one of the highlights we were looking forward to when arriving in Oz. While doing the weekly shopping, we found boxed wine in the bottle'o'. Classy I know. :) Mock as you might, but it's actually very quaffable stuff....so much so, that we make sure that we 'fill up' whenever we're running low.

We returned to town for a 'jobs' morning. We took the second punctured tyre to be repaired to be told that the sharp stone they found in it (the size of a 5 pence piece) had carried out a job well done and the tyre looked irreparable. They said they'd try and patch. Returning an hour later, they'd managed to patch it, but warned we should use it as only an emergency tyre as it might only last 50km, but we may get 300km out of it, who was to know? As we were heading to Perth, mainly on tarred roads (we still had a second spare tyre) we decided we'd wait till we got there before looking to replace it. The long, tedious roads

Having now reached semi-civilisation, i.e. internet and mobile signal were available, we were expecting some sort of message to come through from mum and dad, a.k.a 'the grey nomads' (a used and recognised term here - not my own delightful phrase for the olds) as they were supposed to have landed in Perth. Having left the UK 6 days previous for a short stay in Thailand before reaching Australia, we were hoping to find out when they were picking up their camper van so we could plan our next few days and make sure that we could work out an appropriate rendezvous somewhere in this vast country. No word. We sent more texts and more emails.

We spent a while in the internet, but I could have spent all day there. With prices over here being not far from extortionate, we only had one PC, so I happily watched the end wall of the room which was displaying a gyrating and cavorting God across it - Robbie! :) With Alex banning him in the car (I reckon it's all to do with jealousy myself!) I lavished in the personal display Robbie was putting on for me. Alex's only comment was he'd never seen me so quiet! Tinfish playing on Eighty Mile Beach

We began driving towards Port Hedland. The long, straight roads are incredibly soporific and it gets quite exciting when you reach a bend, well slight curve, making you concentrate a little more, waking you up. We were passing eighty mile beach, so after a quick detour, we soon had the white, soft sand all to ourselves. Miles and miles of uninterrupted beach. After a play, we rejoined the road then pulled off to find camp before sunset.

We found a great spot in the middle of nowhere that looked like it was once a camp for maybe road workers. Miles and miles of low bush scrubland and we managed to find the only tree in the vicinity to take shade under the following morning. Fantastic. With the shade protecting us, we had a lazy morning. The solitary tree was great shade

On arriving at Port Hedland we still had no word from the parentals, leaving Alex with slightly pent-up frustrations - he likes to plan. We were beginning to wonder what had happened to them. I was just hoping that they were ok - after all, surely anyone who was flying half way round the world to meet up with their children would have made contact and at least told them when they were landing and when they were picking up their truck!?!?!? I was sure there had to be some quick and easy answer to the 'incommunicado' action they had assumed.

One thing I hadn't realised before getting on the road, was how archaic the mobile system is here. Once you leave a town, there is no reception until you reach the next big town. Port Hedland was the last town we would drive to before heading south a bit (550km without any further mobile reception!) to Karijini National Park, where we were planning on meeting the AWOL parents if they ever made their whereabouts known. Texts from siblings indicated parents last known position was UK! Hmm, not that helpful then. The prospect of waiting in Port Hedland for an unknown amount of time was not appealing in the slightest. Tensions (I won't say whose) were beginning to rise! A tanker in Port Hedland

Port Hedland is a huge port, and it doesn't really have that much else going for it. Gigantic tankers shackled in the dock, stand tall waiting for their ore. The dock handles the iron ore mined at Newman and exports more tonnage than any other port. Stockpiles of ore dominate the skyline and are the source of the fine layer of dust you see around the town. Not a place you'd want to hang around just for the fun of it. Where were the grey nomads?

After shopping for food, we settled down at a picnic spot for a bite of lunch. Suddenly the phone began to wiggle and beep..... A text from an unknown number....with a cryptic message....'this is our new number', and a number followed. The number listed looked familiar, but I couldn't place it. Then it suddenly came to me, after a quick check I realised it was our mobile number!!?? Curious and curiouser. Deciding to give the number which had just come through a quick call, I could hear my mum's voice on the other end but she wasn't talking to me. The words 'accident' and 'paperwork' were all that I could hear, but no one seemed upset. I guessed they were just picking up the van now. Shouting down the phone, she couldn't hear me - she must have tried to cut the call off but pressed the receive button instead! Alex having a quick dip in Python Pool

I sent a text telling them to call when they'd finished, but after another 45 minutes I called again. Mum answered this time saying they were in deed picking up the van, were giving it a check over so would call back soon to make plans. Finally, they had made their presence known! They called back and we agreed to meet at Karijini National Park in two days time. That should give mum and dad enough time to get there. If either party were late, we'd just wait around till the next day. At least a plan had been made.

Their excuse for being 'incommunicado' was that when they used their new Australian SIM card, all the numbers had been wiped from mum's phone. Dad didn't have our Aussie number in his and therefore had to wait for one of my siblings to get back to them before they could get hold of us. 'yeah, likely story' said Alex, but they are my parents and therefore I have given them the benefit of the doubt :). I still have no idea why our number was sent through as their new number - easier not to ask sometimes! 2 out of 10 for style!

We could finally leave Port Hedland. Wanting only to do two things here - have a coffee and find internet - we managed neither task! We did however manage to spend 5 hours in the delightful town before hearing from mum and dad. I'm still not totally sure how we passed the time. We carried on towards Millstream-Chichester National Park. Found a camp by backing down a dry river bed off a dirt track and settled for the night. Cooked steak on the open fire and watched the stars glisten above us in the bright night sky.

Chichester Park was first on the agenda and after self-registering we drove to Python pool for a swim. Already packed - 3 other people were also enjoying it - we waded in to cool ourselves down. Surprisingly a few others turned up in the interim, making it one of the busiest places we'd been to since arriving in Oz. We didn't stay long in the pool, as the fish took a nibble every time they got near. Boy they can bite. We carried on round the park on to the Mt. Herbert track which led to a 600m high hill top which supposedly gave excellent views. We could already see much of what was around us and decided that the lookout wouldn't give us much more of a view so we drove through the Chichester range and carried on to Millstream. The long train to carry ore

The signposts in this park, are as poor as they are for most of Australia we've passed through so far. We decided to be grey nomads for the day and drive round the park as we couldn't find a lot of the walks. We stopped off at Deep Reach Pool (we think) for lunch and had another swim which was a lot of fun. We didn't wander too far from the edge, as the fear of a croc lurking in the muddy waters was still at the forefront of our minds - although I know you'll never see the one that gets you! We continued round to a lookout and then found the visitors centre, once the homestead of a pastoral station. It had lots of information on the parks history, flora and fauna round the park and the traditional owners; the Yinjibarndi people. We had a walk round the homestead grounds and every so often a board would tell you what used to be there. You had to use your imagination a lot to picture the tennis courts, ablutions block and jetty off the lake, as it's all been reclaimed by nature again.

One of the reasons we went there was to ask about the permits needed to use one of the dirt roads to Tom Price and then onto Karijini, but there was no ranger there. Well, we tried to be good, we'd just have to do the road with no permit. It would cut off about 150km and we figured if we were caught, which we doubted, they'd either let us carry on or just turn us back. We'd chance it. We followed the railway, which is the track for the 2km long trains carrying ore and passed only one other car coming in the opposite direction. We smiled, waved and carried on.

Hamesley Gorge - Karijini National Park Hamesley Gorge - Karijini National Park

We came across a sign, pulled over to double check we were so surprised, and then followed it to Hamersley Gorge which is in the north of Karijini National Park. Arriving early evening we took a stroll down to the bottom to get a closer look at the pools. The rock glinted red as the sun cast its gaze down, but there were too many shadows to get any really good photos so we decided we'd come back tomorrow. We found a patch of land to call camp and began to cook tea. Is this a safe camp?

As the sun set, the horizon began to light up, literally. Bush fires were sweeping across the land. We presumed they were controlled, in the fact they had been deliberately started to control any unnecessary natural fires, but with the smoke bellowing out we weren't so sure how in control they were. The darker the skyline became, the more red spots lit up in the distance. Were we going to be safe in our camp? We decided we should be OK, so sat it out and watched from a distance.

During the night, both of us woke and checked if the fires were getting any closer to ease our concerns of being swallowed by the flames. We managed a lazy morning. 3 trucks drove by to Hamersley gorge so we knew we were out of luck with having it all to ourselves. The wind had changed direction and the smoke had engulfed half the sky. The fires didn't look that in control to us.

The bush fires by night .....and by morning

We returned to a busy Hamersley Gorge for a swim, scramble over the falls and to take in the beautiful views. The sun was scorching, so we took cover after a while before climbing back out of the gorge. We were about 100km from the visitor's centre where we'd arranged to meet mum and dad. Having no idea how good the condition of the dirt roads were, we wanted to make sure we arrived in plenty of time. We had the satellite phone on so they could SMS us when they reached Newman, but nothing came through. We then remembered that the last SMS we received on the sat phone (probably in Iran) arrived 48 hours after it was sent. Hmm, we could be waiting for a while. Peek-a-boo

We arrived at the visitors centre to find it just about to close. Great. We looked at the map of the park and found there only to be one tarred road. At the end of the road was Fortescue Falls, we'd go to the falls and wait for them their. It was now about 3.30pm and we worked out that they would probably arrive around 5ish. I wrote a message for them to meet us at Fortescue Falls and pinned it to the entrance of the visitor centre. As we were driving to the falls, we passed the camp site, so we decided we'd go and find a pitch, so if we got bored at the falls, they could meet us at camp. We found the perfect spot, returned to the message and wrote which camp we were staying at that night as well. They were sure to have no problem finding us.

We continued to Fortescue Falls. A very steep 100m or so descent took us to the pool below. We'd taken our books down to relax and have a read. We were just settling in to the relaxing routine when a party of 20 or so school kids ricocheted down the steps into the water. Not so peaceful anymore, but the teachers did a very good job of keeping them under control. We passed the time by reading and swimming in the cool, clear waters of the falls. A cooling swim while waiting for the 'Grey Nomads' As the hour turned from 6pm to 7pm we were seriously beginning to wonder what had happened to mum and dad. Surely they should have arrived by now? Were we ever going to find these elusive Grey Nomads?

We decided to go back to camp and wait for them. As we huffed and puffed up the gorge we finally reached the car. A piece of paper looking identical to the one I had left stuck to the closed sign on the visitors centre was stuck to our front windscreen. 'We have arrived, gone to the camp to wait for you', timed at 5.45pm!!!! The wait was over. We hurried back to camp to meet and greet. As we pulled up to our pitch, my eyes widened as we came into view with the monster they had driven up here.

I can only say.....MEET THE FOCKERS!

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