We ventured off-grid into one of the remotest parts of the Kimberley – and emerged a few weeks later dusty, stinky, weary, digitally detoxed, slightly gorged out – and in desperate need of some 4G, functioning brakes and a dunk in the ocean.
Our Kimberley adventure started in luxury (of the frugal variety of course). For the price of a caravan park we got an infinity pool overlooking Lake Argyle. Spectacular to look at – but I am glad we didn’t pay five star prices because looking at it was all we did – our 5 year old was the only one brave enough to dive in, and even she only lasted a minute. Brrrrr. The dunk in the lake during the sunset cruise was far warmer – though we were also distracted by the beer, champers and circling freshwater crocodiles.
I am still quite astounded that there is a lake the size of Switzerland at the top of our country. And until a few months ago I had never heard of it. Things like this have happened quite a bit on this trip. I recently re-read Bill Bryson’s “Down Under” and totally agree when he said – “The great thing about Australia is that there is so much to find in it, but so much of it to find it in.”
GRR – Abandon all hope ye who enter
And then it was time to hit the Gibb River Road. A 660km stretch of extremely corrugated dirt road between Kununurra and Derby (near Broome) (or closer to 1000km if you also veer off the main road and go up to Mitchell Falls like we did).
It has river crossings, crocs, waterfalls, gorges, bush camping, bulls, fishing. There is no phone or internet reception for weeks, very little in the way of supplies, and no bottle shops. Whoa. Total roughing it. This is what we had been working up to our whole trip. This road was the main reason we bought an off road camper trailer. This road is also a gigantic pain in the arse. Literally. Ouch. So many bumps and sore bums. We were warned. But we were never going to be talked out of it – we had to see it for ourselves.
What’s the damage…
We had been quite smug about our off-road set up and its ability to handle the toughest of off-road conditions. But no-one comes off the Gibb unscathed, and we were no exception. There were the minor issues – losing a d-shackle for the safety chain, losing the Anderson plug (which charges the battery in the camper trailer), losing the trailer lead (which controls the brakes in the camper trailer), the cover plate for our spare camper tyre bending in half, our entire camper trailer and car filling with red dirt. And then there was losing our brakes completely. Argh.
We pulled into a cattle station with a mysterious light flashing on the dashboard. It was quite alarming when we looked up this symbol in the manual and saw it had to do with brakes. The hubby looked under the hood and said phew – we just need to top up the brake fluid. So we bought two bottles of brake fluid, filled it up and went to leave. Except the mystery light kept flashing and the brake fluid just streamed out under the car. Then the hubby got under the car and saw the line thingy that makes the brakes work (yes – I am getting highly technical here) had snapped. Eek.
We were stuck at the station overnight while the bush mechanic/ Macgyver hubby got the inner tube from kids’ bike, and duct taped and cable tied the hell out of it around the broken brake line. We needed more brake fluid, but it turned out a pair of boofheads had bought the last two bottles and poured it straight through a broken brake line. Oops.
So I turned on maximum charm/desperation and brought my cutest kid over to the station owner to beg for brake fluid. He very reluctantly gave us some of his personal stash, while muttering “Whaddya need brakes for anyway”. Damn us city folk and our wimpy preferences for being able to, you know, stop. But bless him and his surly generosity. It got us through (just) to the mechanic half way along the Gibb (who unsurprisingly does a ROARING trade).
So we were fixed and back to our adventures. And really, whenever we weren’t driving, or stopping to fix stuff, it was delightful. We camped next to croc free waterholes, went for long boab (is there a more photogenic tree on this planet??) filled hikes to waterfalls and spent hours jumping off rocks into deep clear croc free plunge pools. (I know I’m harping on about the crocs but after our NT experiences, it was a big deal and huge relief to swim without the fear of being eaten alive).
At night we sat around campfires drinking our wine rations and chatting to other travelling families. For once I didn’t have to deploy my standard stalking tactics – we all just bonded naturally by talking about what had fallen off each of our cars that day.
I did wonder at times whether the hikes, waterfalls and gorges were actually incredible – or if we thought they were super incredible because of all the effort that had gone into getting there. Treat em mean, keep em keen – hey Gibb? Despite (or perhaps because of) the endless corrugations, brains rattling, stuff falling off our car and camper, and everything getting covered in dirt, we convinced ourselves that what we were seeing and doing was incredible and congratulated ourselves for being so clever to get ourselves in, and eventually out of, there. I’m sure it actually was incredible – but to be honest, I have kind of lost perspective (and my brain has been rattled around a lot so it’s not entirely trustworthy) after all the other incredible things we have seen in the last two months.
Off grid liberation
In my former life, there were very few acceptable excuses for being off line and unavailable. The joys of technology meant that I was working, on emails and conference calls in late pregnancy, on my way home from hospital with a newborn, at weddings, on Christmas, on Boxing Day, on New Year’s Eve, on Mother’s Day, on Father’s Day, on the kids birthdays, while recovering from surgery, on a chairlift at the top of a ski slope. [And yes, I realise this is just as sad a reflection own my ability to push back, as it is on the intrusion of technology and all consuming nature of my old job]. If I ever went off line briefly (for a few hours at night, while under general anaesthetic, while guzzling wine and binging on movies mid flight, while in labour, while walking down the aisle), I dreaded the barrage of emails that would flow through and add to my to do list when I turned my phone back on. It is a sign of how much our lives have changed, that I could switch off my phone for two whole weeks, and have the glorious freedom to go on hikes, swim under waterfalls, lie under the stars, drink around the campfire – and know the only thing I was missing out on was being tagged in memes about people who
are massive trash bags enjoy the occasional glass of red.
Time for a dunk in the ocean
We limped into Broome – dirty, stinky, weary and battle scarred. Broome is clean, and shiny, and fresh, and sea-breezy and smells delightful. Everything we were not. We felt like we were polluting it by our grimy presence. But a car wash and a jump into the ocean at Cable Beach has cleaned us up and cheered us up.
And now we are back in the land of 4G please excuse me while I ignore the hubby and kids for a few hours and catch up on all things instagram-y, facebook-y and game of thrones recap-y. Jon Snow and I may be a while.
Bonus weird thing from the Gibb
Check out this rock that looks like Queen Victoria…