AOR trip blogs

​Matrix & the wild west

Monday, February 22, 2016

Entry 1

You realize just how expansive Queensland is when it takes four days to reach the N. T. border, then further still to W.A.

The few weeks before leaving were chaotic to say the least, dealing with the unexpected sale and packing up of our house and making all the big decisions necessary for building the new one, as well as preparation for a three month trip. Then there was making final arrangements with our enthusiastic and dedicated managers to take care of things in our absence. It’s little wonder we set off in a daze with only a vague idea of direction and certainly not an itinerary. The up side of this is that the trip will be the spontaneity element!

Only when we settled by the lagoon at Camooweal and sat watching the birds for a day did we begin to feel we were actually on holiday. I dragged myself out of bed for a dawn photo shoot to make the best of the beautiful soft light and a black swan floated by in front of the Matrix. What are the chances……?

Steve was becoming despondent at the sight of the mul­titudes of large white dual axle behemoths cluttering up the roads and any accessible camping spots, so we took a left off the Stuart Highway at Dunmarra onto our first dirt road and ……..problem solved! Top Springs has pleasant grassy campsites but the road from there to Timber Creek was surprisingly rough.

Queensland seems to have lots more mobile phone coverage than was the case on our last foray up this way but the N.T. must be last on Telstra’s list as it only appeared in isolated pockets, at least in the central areas.

It was bitterly cold crossing western Queensland and the diesel heater in the Matrix had a real workout but with the W.A. border came some warm weather and it felt like the beginning of our great adventure. Everything here is on a grand scale - big skies, expansive views, massive Lake Argyle, not to mention the Argyle diamond mine which produces 25% of the world’s diamonds. Speaking of diamonds, having disposed of our fruit and veges at the border quarantine we went to stock up at Coles in Kununurra, and as luck would have it there was a jeweler just across the road specializing in the local diamonds. Though you may not necessarily expect a class act from a wild west country town the styles were exquisite - much more indi­vidual that the average big city jeweler and many with lo­cal themes like the ubiquitous Boab. Mmm…… tempting but how many diamonds does a girl need while camping?

From fine diamonds to the wilds of Purnululu National Park in the Bungle Bungles. We’d heard all kinds of sto­ries that had created a mystique about the difficulties of taking caravans into this park so we weren’t sure what to expect. The track has corrugations, some rocky spots, dust holes and about five creek crossings and although it required careful driving, the Matrix handled it with ease.

Purnululu is a geographical wonder that has to be seen to be believed, with its unique beehive formations and. colours that look like over -enthusiastic photoshopping. We found Echidna chasm so spectacular we returned to walk it again at midday when the sunlight penetrates the sheer walls and lights them up in a riot of reds and oranges. Clearly both Echidna chasm and almost as spectacular Cathedral Gorge are great fod­der for photographers as I wasn’t alone in being armed with camera and tripod wait­ing for the best light. A slight correction is warranted here as in fact Steve, being the gentleman that he is, offered to assist in carrying some of the kit and was fond of painting himself as the camera bitch.

Steve took a bit deep breath to overcome his helicopter phobia and we took a flight over the Bungles. This offers a great perspective and enables a view of the otherwise inaccessible areas.

We delayed our exit from Purnululu until late afternoon to make the best of the softer light and were rewarded with some great parting shots of the ranges. But being a bit tired and ‘over it’ we pulled in to the Purnululu Cara­van Park situated just near the turnoff to the park. Its main clientele seem to be those with the big dual axle vans that are not permitted in the park, as they were there in droves. These owners were forced to take a tent or do what would be an extremely arduous day trip in and out. Fees in this caravan park reflected their monopoly situation - $35.00 for a site, no rubbish facility, no laundry, no dump point and a very basic demountable shower/toilet.

Parrys Lagoon came highly recommended as a must see destination and it didn’t disappoint. It is a Ramsar listed wetland of inter­national significance for the variety and rarity of its birds and Marlgu lagoon is quite magical, especially at dawn and dusk. Parry Lagoons Resort offers pleasant grassed campsites, a relief after all the dust of Purnululu, and great locally caught barra meals at the restaurant.

A discussion with some ‘off road’ people we met at said restaurant led to a recommendation of a nearby camp spot at Mambi Island boat ramp so instead of the bitumen back to Kununnurra we took the road less trav­elled and landed at an idyllic free camp on the banks of the Ord River. It comes with its own entertainment - several very large crocs sunning themselves on the bank and floating down the river, a herd of cattle that make themselves quite at home and a flock of magpie geese that are great alarm clocks.

It was a treat to find an Odyssey and a Quantum tucked away in the same spot. Our arrival with the Matrix made it a hat trick. Dean and Carol have been on the road in their Odyssey for four years, with only a nine months break in between. They are obviously old hands at this camping thing as soon after our arrival they returned in their tinny with a very large barramundi proudly caught by Carol. This spot appears to be a mecca for AOR owners because another couple who had just taken delivery of their new Odyssey arrived later in the afternoon.

The barra are such a treat up here - so much better than even fine dining at home - and it’s no wonder it’s such a mecca for the keen fisher person. Unfortunately Steve is not among their number and in any case he’d probably spend the whole time thinking of ideas to invent a better fishing rod rather than concentrating on the fish.

You run out of superlatives to describe the wonders of this amazing area of this country; awesome in the au­thentic, not the popularized meaning of the word. Just off the Gibb River Road is El Questro, a million acre cat­tle property and eco tourism mecca with lots to see and do. Zebedee Springs comprises a series of thermal pools of crystal clear warm water so soak in, or have a back massage under the lovely warm waterfall. The pools are surrounded by the extremely rare Livistona palms, found only here and in Purnululu, and a sheer sandstone cliff rises some two hundred metres on one side. We took the sunset cruise up the Chamberlain Gorge, complete with sparkling wine and fruit platter and park ranger guide. This is one of the larger gorges, up to 15 metres deep and wall that rise 100 metres and are dated in the billions of years old, well and truly old enough to predate any known life form, hence no fossils to be found there.

It became necessary to return to Kununurra for a doctor’s appointment for Steve so it was back to the Lakeside Resort Caravan Park. Though ‘resort’ makes it sound more grand than it is, this park is not such a bad place to be holed up, being situated on a lovely lagoon with the unpowered sites right on the water’s edge. There is lots of bird life – and it turns out, two resident fresh water crocs. The larger one called Dennis, suns himself on the bank just a couple of metres from campsites and attracts quite a lot of attention. The second one, Lillie, is a bit more private. Whoever named them must be a cricket tragic! Only in the north could crocs and campers co-exist unfazed. Next stop Home Valley station.

Entry 2

The eastern end of the Gibb as far as El Questro seems to be in the process of being sealed so the detours make it a bit messy and from there this eastern end is quite rough, corrugated and rocky so Home Valley station comes as a visual and physical relief with its green grass and shaded swimming pool.

Feeling a bit heat weary we opted to camp in the grassed area rather than the more scenic though dusty river campsites. But the river is an absolute must to watch the sunset that turns the dramatic Cockburn Ranges to shades of pinks, golds and blues.

Max the Matrix has performed brilliantly thus far, as has Ruthie the Rangie. The only down side of driving a Rangie is being paid out by the doubters who expect it to fail, so just to even the score with Toyota fans this image of a break down/abandonment on the Gibb is just for you.

Speaking of breakdowns, we stopped to assist a couple who were having problems with both their vehicle (another Toyota) and camper trailer. We were able to get them started again and they limped into Manning Gorge where they received further help from a number of people. There’s a great spirit among travelers in remote parts of rendering assistance wherever possible. Our reward was some new friends and good company in campsites to come.

The waterhole at the Manning campsite is probably the biggest and best on the Gibb, with crystal clear water and, quite unbe¬lievably, sandy tea tree lined shores. Even though as with all the gorges the water is cold, it makes for pleasant relief from the ever-increasing heat. To reach Manning Gorge it’s necessary to first cross the waterhole and in true country style of improvisation, plastic boxes are provided either side to float ones clothes, shoes and camera gear etc. across, making for a cool start and finish to the trek.

The road into the Silent Grove campsite is extremely corrugated and rocky. Places like this, combined with the Gibb are a solid test of dust proofing and general off road ability but inevitably an odd few entry level on road vans show up in these places. We shake our heads and wonder how they must fare especially with the dust. Silent Grove is the campsite for Bell Gorge, which comes highly, recommended and really is quite lovely. The walk to the pools above the waterfall is rocky but quite easy, though to make the climb around to the pools below the falls is far more challenging. A feature of Silent Grove is the beautiful and plentiful spring water so it’s a good place to replenish supplies.

Windjana Gorge is unique. It’s an ancient coral reef with endless numbers of fossils embedded in the walls that are also shaped by the action of waves. We counted over twenty fresh water crocs sunning themselves on the water’s edge. They obviously keep a weather eye out but seem unfazed by people invading their territory and coming just a few metres from them. Windjana is prob¬ably our favourite so far just for sheer drama of all it represents.

There are only two seasons in this part of the world – wet and dry; in fact we’ve hardly seen a cloud since we crossed the WA bor¬der. The landscapes are of vivid reds, ochres, browns and greens and once on the coast these compliment the brochure perfect aquamarine ocean. The intense heat is a surprise with temps of mid thirties during the day, but relief comes quickly mid afternoon and evenings are, believe it or not, bug free - that is no mozzies, no sandflies and hardly any flies – quite a surprise for we Queens¬landers. Needless to say it makes for very pleasant outdoor living.

Broome well and truly exceeded expectations. Cable Beach is recognized as one of the best five beaches in the world and justifiably so. Picture a beach kilometers long, curving around a picturesque bay, with brochure perfect aquamarine water and a complete absence of high-rise buildings lining the foreshore. Then imagine having breakfast with friends at a restaurant overlooking said beach and a pod of whales migrates by. Paradise found! Ve-hicle access is permitted both north and south of the main beach and a popular pastime with locals is to load up the fourbie with picnic gear, drinks and nibbles and descends on the beach at sunset. The atmosphere is quite festive and it’s a good place to chat to locals.

From Broome we did the usual pilgrimage to the Dampier Peninsular - seems to be something of a Mecca for 4W drivers and we joined the pilgrimage to Middle Lagoon, on a road that is alternatively corrugated and sandy with lots of unpredictable dips and dust holes. This and the smaller Whale Song appear to be the only sites available for caravans on the Peninsular with camping no longer available at Gumbarnum or One Arm Point.

Tents and camper trailers are permitted at Cape Leveque and we had reports of four Quan¬tums being sighted there but caravans are not permitted. This exclusion is based on the fact that the resort has limited power and water and they consider caravans to be too demand¬ing of these resources. The contradiction is that a caravan like the Maxtrix set up indepen¬dently of any power or water requirement would actually use less of their resources than the average tent or camper! In any case we had a delightful few days at Middle Lagoon swimming and enjoying a few wines with some Quantum owners, and after a day trip to Cape Leveque we decided we preferred the less structured atmosphere of Middle Lagoon. Interestingly, most of the AOR trailers we’ve seen have been in the most remote spots doing what they were born to do rather than in caravan parks.

At the risk of raising the ire of some, here I’m going to put in my two bob’s worth about generators. I’m certain many like us go camping for the beautiful isolation and peace and quiet of remote areas and find it a major disturbance to that peace and quiet to have a generator droning away hour after hour. And de¬spite claims to the contrary, they are intrusive! The main culprits seem to be the big dual axles that have all their mod cons to run. What about an extra solar panel instead of a generator for the sake of other campers????

We felt ambivalent about doing the high profile horizontal wa¬terfalls trip. One Quantum owner believed it was the best thing he had ever done while another related a scary story of having been in fear of his life when the inflatable boat his group were in became hooked on rocks going through the narrow gap and floated at the mercy of the powerful currents until help came. What to do??? In the end we threw caution to the wind (and $$$) and decided to give it a go. ….once in a life time experience and all that.

It involved a seaplane trip all along the spectacular western coastline and over the Buccaneer Archipelago to land in the pristine waters of Talbot Bay, then a spin by boat through the first of the falls with the second running a bit fast to be attempted. Perhaps they’re a bit more cautious as a result of the incident mentioned. The shark feeding on the pontoon was a bit of a buzz – a dozen or so lining up to be fed at close quarters. As magical as the water looked we were warned not to fall off the pontoon for obvious reasons. Was the experience worth the hefty price tag? I believed it was though Steve considered it nowhere near as exhilarating as driving his racecar. Hard act to follow I guess.

Heading south, Barn Hill Station is just a short drive from Broome and is a popular stopover. Campsites are available on the cliffs with ocean views, albeit in the distance. The beach is a little rocky for swimming but is very photogenic with multi-faceted red rocks lining the shore. The showers and toilets are a bit of fun – corrugated iron walls and open air roof. Opened around the bot¬tom as well so a view of an occupant’s feet substitutes for the vacant/engaged sign.

Further south 80 Mile Beach is a popular fishing spot with some good size catches hauled in off the beach. There is no town - just a well set up caravan park, with grassy sites, a beach that stretches for¬ever and area for rinsing off vehicles and reinflate tyres after driving on the beach. There is some¬thing of a village atmosphere at Sunday markets, a place where residents bring along items they make to sell entertained by live music, then there’s Sun¬day night roast. The longer term residents, escapees from the southern winter, are located in a row along the beach front and tend their lawn fit to shame a bowling green. One even had his own lawn mower!!!

Some Odyssey owners we met recommended a free camp at Bella Bella and when we arrived we could understand why. The lack of facilities and 14kms of dirt road to get there probably deterred many and we had kilometers of lovely secluded river to our¬selves; fish jumping everywhere, with a family of very well fed Royal Spoonbills looking on. Yes, it really is time to take up fishing!

Chichester/Millstream National Park was next. The Chichester section is very scenic but we were disappointed with Millstream. Crossing Pool campsite was full and the overflow camps were just a dust bowl so we headed off towards Karajini.

About the only stopover available on this isolated road was Mt Flor¬ence Station. Aesthetics are definitely lacking here, in fact, not to put too fine a point on it, the entry looked like a bomb site, with tumble down yards and disused farm equipment. The laundry came equipped with a twin tub washing machine…..haven’t seen one of these since I was a girl! The up side was we had a cool grassy camping area all to ourselves and the following morning enjoyed a beautiful sunrise over the endless straw coloured paddocks.

Karajini National Park has as its backdrop the scenic Hammersley ranges. It is a world class attraction with a number of different gorges each dramatically different in character. The Dales Gorge section has some lovely fern lined swimming holes and water walls. An added bonus are the exquisite wild flowers just beginning to add another dimension to the landscape. There are drop toilets, no showers and only limited water supply in this section of the park so we were thank¬ful to have all the facilities offered by the Matrix. The Eco Retreat sec¬tion has solar showers and is the access point for Hancock and Weano Gorges. Walks are graded in levels of difficulty with all requiring a reasonable level of fitness to properly enjoy them but the more extreme ones demanding abseiling ability and a guide. Steve loved the contorted shapes of the stark white Snappy Gums hanging off sheer rock faces and made lots of suggestions for images. But then, not to be outdone, he insisted on being promoted from camera bitch to artistic director!

Chemical toilets present a real problem in areas like this and we were continually seeing signs about the dire consequences of emptying them in the drop toilets that rely on the action of bacteria to break down. It makes us feel our efforts as manufacturers to fit systems that do not have adverse consequences in envi¬ronmentally sensitive areas to be more and more justified. Both the vacuum toilets and our more recently developed electric macerator system – a camper/caravan first - meet this criteria.

After being away from civilization for seven days it was good to reach Tom Price and wash the dust off vehi¬cles and clothes, renew supplies and let everyone know we were still in the land of the living. We made the effort to take a mine tour and were staggered by the sheer size of the operation and equipment.

Entry 3

With Exmouth too big a stretch in one day we called in to Emu Park Station – 22 kms of an excellent dirt road off the highway. With no one around, we followed the signs to a lovely campsite lined with beautiful river gums. Camping fees were collected later that evening by a young lady on a quad bike with her two passengers, a baby and a toddler, in a milk crate on the front! They were placed on the ground to crawl around while we chatted and we couldn’t help thinking how much less cosseted these children are than their city cousins. The station stays, while often a bit out of the way, have a completely different flavour from staying in caravan parks. They offer not only a great sense of isolation but also some insights, albeit limited, into a completely different way of life.

Cape Range National Park is the big attraction in the Exmouth area and what a buzz! Great snorkeling right off pristine beaches and crystal clear water, especially at the aptly named and heavenly Turquoise Bay.A word of advice here: pre-book on line at least 48 hours prior to avoid missing out. It seems the Park is full to capacity most of the time and the alternative is lining up at the Ranger’s station at 7am and waiting to be allocated a spot as people leave.


As magical as it is, Cape Range doesn’t offer remote camping although it does require complete self sufficiency. The sealed road facilitates entry for all types of caravans and the campsites, unlike Karajini where there is well planned separation, are mostly bang up against each other, with little space and no privacy. There are drop toilets but no showers and no water immediately available, so be sure to stock up with supplies and water at Exmouth beforehand. In the case of Ned’s Place where we stayed there was only one tap a kilometer or so from camp so those without on board facilities would either be very uncomfortable or have to curtail their visit. Once again the Matrix came into its own with toilet and shower on board and plenty of water capacity.
There are a number of camping areas within Cape Range and each has a couple who volunteer as hosts for a length of time. Their role is to allocate sites and collect fees in conjunction with National Parks. They also clean the toilets and generally manage each site. Some couples stay for extended periods, their only reward being not having to pay campsite fees. This arrangement seems to suit those who are foot loose and fancy free and just enjoy being by the beach

W.A.’s reputation for being “windy always” seemed well earned during our first two days with a gale making things uncomfortable but once it calmed down the beaches were magnificent with crystal clear water and snorkeling on the Ningaloo reef right off the beach. We loved Turquoise Bay so much we drove there for an early morning swim the day we were leaving and enjoyed having it all to ourselves.

Coral Bay is obviously a popular holiday destination but a bit underwhelming after Cape Range. It’s a handy base for snorkeling and whale watching tours but really only consists of two (very crowded) caravan parks and a few shops. By sheer luck while we were there we heard about Ningaloo Station. Perhaps because the beaches of Cape Range still beckoned and maybe also the thought of cooler weather heading south we spontaneously decided to back track a little and give it a go.

Do not be deterred by the drive in. It’s the most corrugated road we’ve been on so far, through extremely desolate and uninteresting country. In fact an RAAF bombing range borders the property and the choice of venue is understandable. But even despite said desolation and bombs, press onwards. Even when you receive the most obscure directions to your campsite at the homestead, don’t give up. Even if you get bogged on the soft sandy tracks getting to the campsites as we (almost) did, it’s worth it. (Fortunately my ‘artistic director’ see ‘tool’ below - also owns lots of practical skills and by further reducing tyre pressures we managed to avoid having to dig our way out.)

The station borders the ocean with lots of isolated campsites right on the beach, so for those who seek the remote experience it’s even better than Cape Range; in fact hands down it’s the most idyllic spot we’ve found so far! To justify the effort of getting there allocate lots of time because if you don’t have long enough you’ll end up wanting more and more and more……… For lovers of snorkeling, the beach and isolation – oh yes, and even watching whales breach in the distance - this is paradise found.!!! Note: There are no facilities whatever so once again, go prepared. Note also: Be alert but not alarmed. One metre brown snakes crossed in front of our camp in both Cape Range and Ningaloo and at Ningaloo another camper reported a much larger version…….. but then isn’t the serpent sometimes written into the script in paradise?
The photographic possibilities are endless and in fact right on cue some clouds moved in to create a much more dramatic sunset. I needed a higher perspective for one particular shot and sought out my ‘artistic director’ to carry ladder and tripod……only to hear some mumbling about a demotion from this elevated position to that of ‘tool’. Swings and roundabouts……..

The Pilbara area has much to offer. Although the drive south as far as Carnarvon, unlike the tropical lushness of the east coast of Oz, is through quite desolate and uninteresting countryside, this is offset by pristine beaches and the Ningaloo reef on the coast, and inland by the wonders of Karajini. For the less adventurous the attractions of the Pilbara generally have the advantage of being on sealed roads and are thus more accessible than areas of the Kimberleys. Perhaps for this reason they lack the high profile the Gibb River Road and Dampier Peninsular enjoy in the off road fraternity.

Entry 4

Canarvon was a good place to regroup and restock and with even a car wash (rare in this part of the world) to clean up the salt and sand after Ningaloo Station. It was midday before we left and making it to Kalbarri was too big a stretch so we pulled in to the Galena Bridge free camp just north of the Kalbarri turnoff around 5 pm – to be greeted by a large number of assorted caravans, motor homes etc., in fact more than the average caravan park. This campsite is on the Murchison River, complete with swans, ducks and other birdlife and as with all easily accessed free camps it is obviously extremely popular. Nothing for it at that time of the day but to join the crowd!

Our timing worked well because the wildflowers on the road into Kalbarri were simply stunning, like a giant cottage garden, and we had plenty of time to stop and enjoy them. Kalbarri is a beautiful town with a number of dramatic cliff top vistas to explore; in fact the coast road right through to Northampton is one not to miss.

We arrived at the Geralton Sunrise Caravan Park amidst gale force winds, to be greeted by a talkative receptionist who cheerfully informed us that Geralton was the second windiest city in the world, after Hamilton in New Zealand. This unwelcome snippet came as no surprise as the gales persisted and we would probably have continued on our merry way if not for the fact that Ruthie the Rangie was booked in for repairs and a ‘health check’ service.

Let me preempt any anti Land Rover sentiments by hastening to point out that the repairs were not of a mechanical nature. The first was replacement of the driver’s side window, cracked when a mining vehicle ute passed us on a dirt road going about 130 clicks. Fortunately for us the Rangie windows are laminated so the crack was only on the outside and the window didn’t disintegrate. The second was replacement of a rear tail light cover, cracked with a jack knife that was just a bit too sharp. Land Rover skeptics please note that apart from these repairs and despite all our adventures into the wilds, Ruthie received a completely clean bill of health…….although the bill did give cause to take a deep breath. Fortunately these have been the only mishaps thus far with no even as much as a flat tyre to mar the performance of either car or caravan.

The Geralton Visitor was a great source of information regarding the whereabouts of the wildflowers flowering at any given time, and in fact following their advice led us to take a completely different direction from that intended. Their suggestion was Dongara to Eneabba, turning off to Green Head then Jurien Bay and following their advice we were rewarded with hundreds of kilometres of what appeared to be the mother lode - an even more stunning display of every size, shape, colour and variety of flower imaginable, from the impossibly tiny groundcovers with their happy little faces to the large stately Banksias.

The Western Flora Caravan Park just south of Geralton is a small eco friendly caravan park surrounded by a nature reserve of wildflowers and is ideally situated to explore this area. It is a delightful setting but regretfully it didn’t suit our timing to stay there.

From Jurien Bay it was on to Perth and it was interesting to see this city from a perspective other than the craziness of running a caravan/camping show. A stand out feature for us this trip has been the friendliness and hospitality of West Australians and both here and further south we had a great time catching up with folks we had met on the road, AOR owners and others. Odyssey owners Mike and Amanda Burton, recently returned from four months travel with their two children, including lots of hardcore 4WD tracks, shared lots of interesting anecdotes and suggestions of places to go, as well as some great home baking, and other ‘Oddies’ Mal and Lyn invited us to their beautiful property near Pemberton.

Participants on our AOR owners’ forum have also been a gold mine of information about great camping spots all down the coast – so much more relevant to our style of camping than the usual tourist brochures. They also made some very helpful suggestions about caravan parks in Perth and for various reasons we chose to stay at Karinup. Quite surprisingly the unpowered sites were right on the grassy edges of a lake that a great variety of ducks and other water birds called home. It felt more like a bush setting than a major city.

Our run of idyllic weather finally came to an end with a trifecta of cold, rain and wind…make that really cold. In fact by the time we reached the Margaret River area the maximum temperature was 12 degrees and the wind had to be straight off the Antarctic. Max the Matrix had to transition from the fan to the diesel heater in a very short space of time. Hailing from warmer parts as we do I think the heater is the piece of kit we could least do without….but then again maybe it’s the inside shower and loo….

The conjunction of long weekend and school holidays loomed as a potential problem in terms of places to stay so we headed for Conto National Park to find a spot prior to the weekend and this proved to be a great choice. With the coastal heathland bursting out in a riotous colour of wildflowers, nearby caves and easy access to the dramatic coastline of Cape Freynicet, there is much to enjoy. Perhaps in fear of the mooted demotion to ‘tool’ my Artistic Director became very enthusiastic about the textures and patterns in the coastal rocks, to the extent that he moved from just holding the other camera to putting it to use, with a couple of interesting results.

Conto NP is a handy base to explore the whole Margaret River area, an area that needs no introduction, with its green pastures, artisan galleries and endless vineyards producing lots of well recognized brands. Not being great connoisseurs of the grape we made only a token effort at tasting but even then found a good red.

An improvement in the weather was a window of opportunity to back track to explore the attractions of Geographe Bay, including whale watching and some of the bays and beaches and lighthouse around Cape Naturaliste.

We then headed south once more through the beautiful area of Pemberton with its rolling green pastures and Karri forests to the descriptively named Windy Harbour and Peaceful Bay. These tiny settlements didn’t quite live up to their names, it being a perfect day at Windy Harbour and wild and wooly at Peaceful Bay. Quite improbably for such a remote spot we met two different couples at Windy Harbour keen on the Matrix, one of whom had seen it at the Sydney show so we spent most of the morning ‘working’, empathizing with our staff who just happened to be at the Melbourne Leisurefest.

Again following the suggestions of our forum participants (who needs Tourist Info Offices???) we detoured to Bremmer Bay with its lovely white sandy beach, estuary well stocked with bird life and headland with views over the Southern Ocean.

It’s difficult to comprehend the sheer number and variety of wildflowers in the southern half of W.A. and just how widespread they are. Obviously the further south you go the later they flower and we had the good fortune to have them flowering everywhere we went giving us something of a sensory overload…..or so we thought. Then we drove into Fitzgerald National Park and it was wow time all over again. Just when you think there couldn’t possibly be a different shape, colour or size there they are, with the suburb Royal Hakea the biggest surprise of all.

So imagine a day leaving Bremmer Bay, driving through the National Park then arriving at Point Ann, probably the most stunning beach we’ve seen so far.! The beaches in this area are reputed to have the whitest sand in the world. Add to this the picture perfect blue ocean, mountains dropping into the sea and dunes covered in wild flowers….talk about sensory overload!! Even better, it’s all so pristine. Our campsite was also the best so far – close to the beach, tucked in amongst the dunes, , surrounded by wildflowers. Ahhh….what an experience. W.A. just keeps getting better and better. Only the relentless wind stops it being truly magical.

Once again the Matrix has come into it own. As with most National Parks in W.A. the only convenience is a drop toilet, yet we’ve had the luxury of our own hot shower and loo, plenty of power and water as well as a cozy insulated environment for when the weather turned ordinary. We are constantly amazed by the Matrix solar system. As well as the on board 130L fridge and various lights and pumps it has met the demands of charging two computers, camera and phone batteries and been back-charged to the car for the second fridge. By early morning the batteries are generally around 80%, then fully charged once more by mid morning. It makes extended camping in remote places just so idyllic.

NOTE: Point Ann has only 15 campsites, well spaced out but not suitable for large caravans. The ranger indicated that though size was not clearly defined, he interpreted the criteria as being, like Purnululu, restricted to single axle caravans.

Entry 5

 

Esperance is one of the major towns on this beautiful southern coast and a good place to restock. Steve was keen to see fur seals and sea lions in their natural environment so we took the half-day boat trip to the islands of the Recherché Archipelago. Inclusive of a stop over at Woody Island for a guided nature tour and morning tea, the trip was lots of fun. The caravan park on the waterfront generously permits a 1pm checkout so we were able to head off the same day.

Cape Le Grande is a magnificent national park. The quaintly named Thistle Cove is exquisite and Lucky Bay came highly recommended. It seems Matthew Flinders named this bay after sheltering there from a storm, and although the beach was impossibly beautiful, the campsite wasn’t so lucky for us.

While some of the W.A. national parks are well planned with a good degree of separation between the campsite, in Lucky Bay caravan area the sites were so close together we could almost reach out and touch our neighbours; the tent sites being little different. And just to add insult to injury we were serenaded ….no, not by bird song, or the sound of the sea, but by…..you guessed it….generators !!! With insufficient space available to move them away from campsites, they were even more intrusive than usual.

 

Lucky Bay is obviously more attractive to more people because of its more civilized attributes but these then bring the crowds. It has hot showers, water and garbage disposal – rarities for W.A. national parks - as well as good road access. The ranger seemed a bit mystified when we enquired whether there were other areas more secluded (perhaps we’ve become too addicted to more remote spots) but he did suggest Thomas River camp in nearby Cape Arid national park and it turned out to be much more our thing; in fact we had it almost to ourselves.

 

The choice heading east from Cape Arid is to back-track to Esperance and take the sealed road through Norseman to reach the Nullabor (an additional 500 or so kms), or the much shorter but 4WD option of the Balladonia Road. We’d received varying reports about the condition of the latter so we sought the advice of locals at the Condingup Tavern and were assured it would be OK - with appropriate off road gear. It turned out to be variously rocky, corrugated, overgrown, with lots of unpredictable dips. But the best bit was the dust bowl – several hundred metres of deep, very fine and powdery bulldust , reminiscent of some of the worst offerings of Cape York . It exploded in a cloud that completely obscured the Matrix.

Have to say we were glad to reach the Belladonia Roadhouse after the unpredictability of this road/track. The good part was that we’d cut off a significant chunk of the Nullabor. Although this is never anyone’s favourite piece of highway we were pleasantly surprised by the regular viewing areas of the drama of the Great Australian Bight – some 150 metre sheer of cliffs dropping into the Southern Ocean. As might be expected the caravan parks at the Caiguna and Nullabor Roadhouses are very basic but - any port in a storm so to speak.

 

With our more direct easterly trajectory the homing beacon began to kick in big time, given further impetus by the joint imperatives of work and the building of a new home. So after a detour to South Australia’s Eyre Peninsular we are finally homeward bound.

Our exploration of this great state has been a memorable experience –one we’ve enjoyed immensely: from the wonders of Purnululu and Karajini, the rough and tumble of the Gibb River Road, the magical coastline and the friendly and generous people we met along the way.

Of course this trip was not only a great adventure, it was yet another first hand test for the Matrix – one it has passed with flying colours. From the heat of the north to the cool of the south it has been superbly comfortable in all weather conditions. It has towed magnificently and its solar power and water capacity have met the demands of extended periods of remote camping without question.

Hopefully our experience will encourage others to undertake this great journey, and to do so with the complete comfort and security of an AUSTRALIAN OFF ROAD vehicle. Look forward to meeting you on the road or around a campfire.

RHONDA & STEVE BUDDEN