To get to our next destination – Kununurra, which is on the border of Western Australia and Northern Territory, we had to traverse what the WA tourist board calls the ‘Kimberley Wilderness Highway’. More prosaically known as the Great Northern Highway, it’s a lengthy beast – a 1043 km road trip with the first hospitable town 4.5 hours away from Broome.
Compared to the Gibb River Road, which is an old stock route that cuts through the heart of the Kimberley (4wd only) this highway should have been smooth, velvety luxury, but we definitely had our woes.
We drove to Derby first, which is north of Broome, to check out their Kimberley tours, but the excessive heat soon wore us down at 40 degrees plus. After rattling the chains at the local swimming pool, we bought a tiny fan that could be powered from our solar panel and a big block of ice. Did we mention that the van’s air-conditioning was non existent?
Heading back down south, we drove on towards Fitzroy Crossing, too hot to contemplate the turn offs to Geiki Gorge. Without air-conditioning we had to keep the windows open, which made it difficult to hear anything of Karl Pilkington’s moaning or Ricky Gervais’ abuse, as we drove at 115 kmph – 15 km above the legal podcast limit.
Gaz began to complain of a headache and nausea. Shelley kept fantasising about becoming a mermaid so she could live under the sea. Because darling it’s better down where it’s wetter. The heat was taking its toll. Shelley made the executive decision to stop at Fitzroy Crossing and partake of their pool and Golden Gaytimes, rather than rough it at a free camp.
Backpacker nightmare number 1
After parking, Gaz rolled out of the van and collapsed onto the grass. He couldn’t even walk the 200 meters to the pool. Heat exhaustion had him in its sweaty clutches. Surprised and quietly chuffed that she wasn’t the sick one this time, Shelley bullied water into Gaz until he eventually felt better.
The next day we continued on to Halls Creek, a hot dust bowl of a town. The lady at the tourist desk recommended we take the unsealed road out the back of town and check out the ‘hidden secrets’ of Palm Springs and China Wall. After driving down the dusty road a way, we came across pre-facelift Halls Creek. Old Halls Creek was a goldrush town that was ditched in the 1950s. The townspeople rebuilt 14km away, leaving the old town to decay as picturesquely as possible. We poked around ye olde gravestones for a bit and then continued on, hoping to get to the oasis of Palm Springs before sunset.
So Palm Springs actually has palms. Date palms. Afghan camel men drove their caravans through the Western Australian desert, using these freshwater pools as rest points throughout their journey. Palm Springs was small but beautiful with the reflections of the rock, sky and palms creating a mirror effect. Unfortunately, by this point, Shelley was feeling the heat and couldn’t enjoy it, instead she lay in the back of the van soaking up the pathetic breeze from the tiny fan.
Backpacker nightmare no. 2
About midnight we heard something driving down the trail, coming to a stop right next to us. Gaz stuck his head out and was confronted by a 4wd filled with locals nursing shotguns.
They called him over to the car. Had he seen any kangaroos? They were on a hunt. Gaz pointed in the direction of the last one seen and they drove off. Shelley let out the breath she didn’t realise she was holding.
After being punished by the high temperature and harshness of the sun for two days, we weren’t keen on doubling back to check out the meteor crater at Wolfe Creek. But then we realised that while heat stroke was temporary, FOMO was eternal.
After relishing a few km of paved road we hit the real Tanami Track, which while unsealed, wasn’t too corrugated. If you stay on the Tanami Track you will eventually hit Alice Springs, only 1053 km away.
We took a left turn down a cattle station road and after getting out to open and close several paddock gates in the searing sun, we really began to think of Wolfe Creek as Wolf Creek. This isn’t where the backpacker murders took place by the way, that was in the Northern Territory and down in South Australia. But it doesn’t stop backpackers from taking selfies with the sign.
Backpacker nightmare no. 3
It might not be serial murder, but we came pretty close to death by corrugation. The corrugations on the road to Wolfe Creek were the worst we’d encountered to date, and bouncing over them created so much dust that we had to keep the windows closed, even though we were melting inside the van. If Moby broke down here we’d be vulture pickins by breakfast. It took almost an hour to cover the last 5 kilometres and we were barely hanging on to our fillings and sanity.
Was the 5 hour drive from Halls Creek worth it? Yes, about 74% worth it. Wolfe Creek Crater is huge and epic. It’s the second largest meteorite crater on Earth, with a diameter of about 950 metres (the biggest is in Arizona, USA). However, we discovered that like Wilpena Pound, it was actually created by giant ancestral snakes, not a big alien rock hurtling to Earth.
We stood on the rim and looked into the crater – the weirdest bit is right in the middle which is a perfect circle of salty white. Gaz ventured down the steep inner wall to explore this otherworldly landscape while Shelley supervised from above. All he found were skinks.
We camped that night just off the highway towards Kunnunura. We pulled in, just behind the bridge, sharing the spot with some American backpackers who were extremely confident in their singing voices. All night was a Young American. Young American, Young American, you want the Young American.
Highs: Not dying. From heatstroke, gunshot wounds or chronic vibration
Lows: Sweating in places we’ve never sweat before