Monday, October 12, 2009

Back to civilization

[Kyle]We awoke in our river bed camp site, even before the cockatoos. The fine gravel which had initially seemed so soft had overnight compacted under us to the consistency of a parking lot, making for an uncomfortable night for the both of us. Once we saw the first chink of light we gave up trying to sleep and broke camp. It turns out no cows had clomped through our camp overnight to leave my shoes under a pat, no dingos came around for good tucker, and no snakes had crawled under the tent for warmth. It had simply been a peaceful night of crickets and stars. Maryanne creaky and sore, silently gave me a look that said volumes, mostly “nice choice for a camping spot buddy!”. We dragged everything back up to the car and started our slow bumpy drive back to the main road and off to find the first roadhouse where I promised Maryanne breakfast on me!

Once back onto the highway we didn’t see any vehicles in either direction for a long time. I started to joke that the creepy abandoned cattle station at Cane River had been some kind of portal, and we now found ourselves the last people on Earth. The first road train barrelling the other way was a welcome sight. We pulled into the first road house (Nanutarra) which was open, but completely deserted, despite being open for a couple of hours, we appeared to be the first customers of the day. After walking through the gas station and popping my head out the back door I found a guy surprised to see me, he then came out and turned on the pump for our fuel. I paid for the gas and asked about the restaurant (lights were on but this also appeared abandoned), he assured us it was open, and Maryanne walked over as I parked the car. We checked out the breakfast menu, and immediately got an idea why the place was deserted; $17.50 for bacon and eggs, Maryanne spotted mushrooms on toast for $14.95 (extra for tea or coffee). I’ve stayed at Hilton hotels in major cities and found room service breakfasts for less. We hastily retreated to the parking lot to have our usual camp breakfast of cereal and warm milk. I promised Maryanne lunch out instead.

From the car we could see the rooms the roadhouse had for rent, essentially shipping containers partitioned into windowless cells, all apparently empty of customers. We agreed that if it were not for the fact that it was the ONLY place to purchase fuel for around 200 miles each way they would probably be out of business with that pricing structure and quality of accommodation. One thing they did have was a beautiful location on the River Ashburton (one of the few rivers that had flowing water at this time of year) and as such was host to a giant flock of corella cockatoos (at least 500). We stopped on the other side of the bridge and walked back along the disused old bridge for a view of both the river and the birds. The birds were all busy waking up and having their morning drink in the river, while being harassed by a hawk which kept flying back and forth through the flock, causing them to nervously fly from place to place while never leaving the company of their mates.

Along the way we finally managed to get a close up view of Australia’s largest bird of prey (the Wedge Tailed Eagle) which has a wing span of up to 2.5m (8.25’) and stands about waist high. We also saw (and nearly hit) a couple of much larger emus.

Around lunch time we stopped in Carnarvon, a town famed for its fishing and shrimping industry according to our guide book; Maryanne was looking forward to a nice seafood lunch. Once we turned off the highway and into town we kept recalling things we needed to do (more beer, cash from the ATM, replacement sleeping mat, etc). We also decided we could not take the condition of the car any more (with tonnes of red dust aboard) and went to a self-serve car wash and sprayed and vacuumed away the dust from every nook and crevice. From the town centre we walked about looking for a restaurant, all we could find were cafes with no seafood, just the standard sandwiches on offer. On a side road we encountered two teenage girls having a fight in the middle of the street. It started with slapping and hair pulling but soon devolved into flying glass bottles and cheering on from their various groups, as we were steering ourselves away from the fracas the police arrived to scatter the gangs. Still searching for some seafood, we were directed to one restaurant over by the marina only to find it was a fish monger, and giving up arrived at the fish and chip shop just as it closed, we were reaching for the door as the owner came out and locked it behind him. So much for Maryanne’s treat for the worrisome night at Cane River! Running low on time we eventually reduced ourselves to buying lunch from a road house along with a top up of fuel for the car; again we now had to rush to reach our planned camp site by nightfall.

We stopped in at Hamelin Station on the southern end of Shark Bay. We got some pretty serious déjà vu driving up the access road. The gravel road was corrugated. There were cattle grids. We were worried it was going to be Nallan all over again. Now, I liked Nallan, with its unmaintained authenticity, but once you’ve seen it, there’s no need to overdose. What a pleasant surprise we had when we pulled around the corner and actually saw the station. It was neat and tidy and had new buildings. We parked the car and were greeted warmly by the caretaker Jock who was friendly and helpful and seemed to know every plant and animal in the area and where (and when) to find them. Since we had a tent, he directed us to one of their tent spaces; raised mounds of soft earth, as he explained the limestone ground was too hard for tents so they put in the mounds. Jock then took us on a tour of the facilities which were nicer than 95% of the marinas we’ve ever stayed. They had large spotless bathrooms, with several big (hot) showers in each, and were told to shower for as long as we wanted since the non-potable supply used for the bathrooms was much larger than the precious drinking water supply. He also showed us the giant, well equipped; kitchen and dining room (free to use anything in it as long as we cleaned up afterwards). We also discovered a laundry room with a washing machine and an outdoor clothes line (complete with pegs) which in the hot, breezy, dry Australian air dried the clothes faster than a tumble drier would.

Hamlin Station raises mostly sheep and goats on over 1 million acres with just two guys to run the station. Jock lives on a converted bus out back and is managing the accommodation end of the business for the season (in the off season he travels Australia himself).

Wasting no time after check in, we both took long, hot showers and did a load of laundry. Neither of us were too hungry so for dinner we grabbed a bag of carrots and a can of corn and with our beer and wind joined the other campers in the dining room. There was the usual introductory chit chat about where you came from, where you were headed, etc. Everyone else had really nice meals they had cooked (lamb shank, steak, oriental noodles, etc). Once it came out that we lived on a boat the woman sitting next to us laughed that she didn’t feel sorry for us, any longer, munching on our raw carrots. It was a great crowd. Later the station owner joined us and the guests peppered him with questions on running such a large ranch; how did he even find his free roaming goats when it came time to market them? Etc.


Mommy Dearest said...

Oh dear Kyle. Now you're in trouble with your mother! After missing the opportunity to redeem yourself with breakfast (at ANY price!) and then lunch, you sat there amid all that beautifully cooked food and ate raw carrots and canned corn? Huh? Loosen up those purse strings, young man. The woman you're traveling with is a gem worth polishing from time to time. I'm sure you shared some good stories of your own that evening, hehe.

kate said...

see, your mom can say these things. i was thinking them, but i sure as heck wasn't going to say them :) i'm catching up on your most recent posts today and, as usual, enjoying them immensely. don't know where you two are headed next, but i know i'm looking forward to hearing all about it!

Mommy Dearest said...

I've learned they are off to the Sydney area and will see the Great Barrier Reef. This sounds perfect for Maryanne in particular and I hope the diving is spectacular. How could it not be?