Granite Gold Mine

Thursday seven weeks ago we went to Balgo in the morning. We were a bit early according to the local time, but which is in fact 90 minutes behind NT time. But anyway, the general store was still closed. Nevertheless, the fuel was available for 24 h. The only problem was you’ve to choose which pump either 1 or 2, and there was no sign which number pump has the diesel pump. In the end we got some help from a local who told us that diesel is number 1. Hence, we could fuel up, even before the general store was open. Then we went to the Balgo art center, which was supposed to open even an hour later. But somehow the managers just approached when we went there, and even let us have a look “early” this morning. I had a look at some draings, which were indeed quite nice. There was even a meeting ongoing from all art centres across North Australia. Megan needed to buy additional drawings, while I took care of our water supplies (thankfully we could fill up our water jerry cans there) – sure, everyone has its own priorities in the desert, as well as using the flushing toilet. That’s definitely luxury, when you know the next one might be days away ;). Once we passed the Coyote gold mine, we quickly reached the border to the NT, and were finally back. Shortly after the border there was a rest area near the Tanami gold mine. This rest area even provided water. Not for drinking, but good enough for washing away all the dust and sweat from skin and hair. Both gold mines were put into mothballs some years ago, and only their spoils tips are reminders of their former operation. Surprisingly the Tanami road was lined with a lot of plants, not only spinefex grass, but also bushes and even trees. I didn’t expect such an amount of dark green leafs in the desert. In essence it’s very good, as it stabilises the soil and prevents a bit the erosion effects caused by heavy winds. Otherwise you would always end up in a sand storm, once there’s a bit of a wind. All the plants are perfectly optimised for little rainfall during the year. They can even survive several years in a row without rainfall. If it rains in the desert, then the rain will be heavy. In a short amount of time the plants will grow, spread their seeds, and even new plants will emerge from that rainfall, before everything is going to be dry again. In the late afternoon we made a short detour to the closed Rabbit Flat Roadhouse. The diesel fuel pump still exists, as well as the toilets. You can still see that the roadhouse was in operation just a few years ago. Nevertheless, the surrounding of the roadhouse looks devastating. We explored a bit the vicinity, and could even detect the water bore, as well as the sheds of the old diesel engines. Both were demolished and sold elsewhere. Just during sunset we drove up a cairn near the Granite Gold Mine and had a lovely sunset view to the surrounding flat plans. As the gold mine is still in operation, even as it is operated on Aboriginal land, I had high-speed internet connection in the middle of the desert.

Indigenous art work at the Balgo art centre
Finally back on the Tanami road after the detour via the Canning Stock Route
There’re lots of bushes and trees along the way, and sand vortexes…obviously
Back in the NT…with a local time, which makes sense
Lonely tree in the flat desert
The spoil tip is everything what remains from the operation of the Tanami gold mine
Abandoned rabbit flat roadhouse…
…water tank, wind mill, hundreds of old empty oil barrels, and the former sheds of the electricity generators
Suddenly large Termite mounds appeared next to the road
Sunset view to the flats of the Tanami Desert from a cairn next to the Granite gold mine

Balgo

Wednesday seven weeks ago we took a morning walk around the rim of the Wolfe Creek Crater. You’ve a nice view to the surrounding flatland and down the crater, which was about 30m higher than the surrounding area. Inside of the crater there’s always a bit water. Hence, the trees are always green, and birds come by to have a sip. After we went back on the Tanami road from this short detour, we continued the drive south to Billiluna. I took care about the car, refilled it and was even able to purchase a day permit for the Paruku IPA (Indigenous Protected Area) online, thanks to the reception of my Telstra Sim card. After Meg disappeared for a while, she returned happily with a painting from the local art centre. Then we continued our drive for the first (or last) 100 km along the Canning Stoke Route until Well 51, which is actually the last Well along the CSR. The landscape was pretty flat along the CSR, at another Well with a windmill, right in the beginning, we met another couple. They drove the CSR from the south to the north, and were just finishing. We were the first people they spoke to after more than one week. They seemed to be very happy. Luckily they never really got bogged, and had also no problems like flat tyre, or something else, to their car. After lunch, as it became really warm – well not surprisingly, when you’re at the edge of two deserts (Great Sandy and Tanami), we continued further south across some sand dunes, as we stumbled suddenly into a group of camels. That was probably the first time I saw wild camels. As (Western) Australia has the largest number of camels…in the world, it’s just a matter of probability, once you see some. Beside eating camel meat, they also exporting the camels nowadays to the middle east. After the turnoff of the CSR, we quickly reached the shore of the Yunpu lake, which is the milky fresh water part of lake Gregory. But it was actually dry…hence, not much to see, except of some sandy vortexes, which are quite common throughout the desert anyway. So we drove along the shore of the lake in the direction of Mulan, where we made another stop at the handover campsite. That’s the point, where the indigenous people got the Paruku area back. The Mulan lake is supposed to be the salt water part of Lake Gregory. We met there two Aboriginal woman and a white woman, with whom we had a short chat. They looked for fire wood and some local herbs. They told us that the temperature is not yet too bad, as it will become even more hot during December and January. They had no rain at all the last two years. Hence, the lake is absolutely dry and all what you sea is a mirage, or in other words a density gradient of the air due to the temperature difference. The woman encouraged us to have a drive at the salt lake, but only until the marked end. Typically up to 100,000 birds are inhabiting the area, due to the water resource, but they all vanished so far. As we hadn’t had a overnight permit, we left Mulan in the direction to Balgo and stopped in between these two communities, directly underneath the stars. Due to the new moon and the absence of clouds, we could easily have a look to the milky way.

Wolfe Creek Crater
Looking down the crater rim
Fresh bush tucker
Big red kangaroo just jumped across the street (pretty fast for my camera). You still can see it at the right hand side, just before it hides behind the bush…probably only, if you know where it is 🤣
Access to water is crucial in arid areas
Along the Canning Stock Route…
…we suddenly saw a group of wild camels
All I saw at the Yunpu lake was this sand vortex
Termite mounds are an important natural fertiliser. As the termites get all the nutrition out of the soil and built their home with that. Once, they die the mounds will fertilise the soil during the next rain.
Also the Mulan saltwater part of the lake was dried out
View from Mulan to the Twin Peaks

Wolfe Creek Crater

Seven weeks ago we continued our drive along the Great Northern Highway in the morning. After less than one hour we came across a stranded car. The indigenous bloke asked us for fuel, but I’m running on diesel and not petrol. He asked us, if we can tow him to the next community, I agreed even if it was in the opposite direction. In the end it was 25km, well for northern WA not much, but still it was in total 50km detour for me. I was just thinking what these guys are thinking, if they don’t refill their car properly. Are they looking for miracles?!? Instead of saying thank you, all I got was: Do you have a cigarette? Seriously, you’re asking me for a cigarette after I towed you in the wrong direction for 25km, I expected a bit more gratefulness. No I don’t have a cigarette for you! I was definitely pissed off, after that kind of question. Then after we drove the same section again for the third time, we finally made a short detour to Yiyili, as Meg was interested in the art centre. But it was closed, probably due to the school holidays. So we arrived in Halls Creek at about noon, and stocked up our supplies, water and fuel. But we couldn’t get cash, as there was no bank in Halls Creek. I was a bit worried about that, as I didn’t expect that I can pay with credit card, as it was mostly the case along the Gibb River Road. I asked also for a new set of tyres in one of the workshops, but these were a “bit” expensive out here. So the old ones, need to be good enough for doing the job. Having a last shower at the fuel station for the next couple of days, which was even free in the end, we headed off to the Wolfe Creek Crater along the Tanami road. The road was not too bad, and the corrugations let me drive in a fair speed. So we could easily reach the campground at dusk.

The landscape before Halls Creek was mainly stony…
…and loosely covered by spinefex grass
There were some hills next to the Tanami road after Halls Creek.
On some of the hills, there were large termite mounds…
…as well as on the plains, which were covered with them.

Ngumban Cliff Rest Area

Monday eight weeks ago we went to Fitzroy crossing in the morning, but as the visitor centre was still closed we directly proceeded to Geikie gorge, just a view kilometres north of the town. We went for a walk along the Ritzroy river. In the beginning a shelter showed the water level during wet seasons. In some years the shelter is completely covered by water. Surprisingly there was still water in the river, but probably it was only a large billabong. The geikie gorge was crafted into limestone. The white limestone above the water shows the average high water levels during wet season, when all the dust is washed away. The red limestone is iron which was chemically fixed onto the rock, and the black limestone is covered by bacteria and mold. We walked until the first bend, the end of the gorge, along the river and returned on the path along the limestone walls, where I couldn’t resist to do some moves, as they were just too inviting. Once returned to the town, and having a lock to the old Fitzroy crossing, which was actually closed, probably due to the deep cravings of the track on the bank, the visitor centre was still closed, even as it was Monday. We realised that this Monday was “Queens birthday”, well actually I don’t know which Queen was meant with that, as the birthday of the head of state is in April, but anyway it was public holiday in Western Australia. Furthermore, also the Café was closed, only the local supermarket and one fuel station was open. So we had a coffee at the supermarket and then headed off to the Mimbi Caves. Luckily we were just in time at the meeting point, when one of the traditional owners started a tour. Furthermore, it was the last tour of the year, as the cave and the associated campground will close from October on for the dry season. When walking into the limestone walls, it feels like you’re entering a city. The caves are one of the largest in Australia, and several scientists are visiting them yearly to further explore them. Our guide told us several dreamtime stories about the caves, and showed us also evidence of the rainbow serpent. This traces of this snake like being, was mainly visible at the ceiling of the caves. In the early eighties two young German girls lived for about half a year near the cave, until they got discovered by the indigenous people. They built a small hut, and even a table for playing chess. They collected a lot of fossils, but needed to hand them back to the native people. In the evening we just went to the nearby Ngumban Cliffs and enjoyed the view and the sunset. We met Stefanie at the rest area, who travelled just with her dog from Perth north in a large van and towing a small 4WD, just for some off road adventures. Her ultimate goal was to drive all around Australia in the next 12 months.

Flooding levels during rainy season
Limestone walls line up the Geikie Gorge…
…and have three different colours near the water. The big rock in the water is part of a dreamtime story.
This bird was too lazy to fly away, once I approached it.
A lot of bats waiting for darkness in the trees to hunt again
Couldn’t resist to do some moves at the jugs of this nice limestone 😏
Original Fitzroy river crossing…but at the time being there were only a few billabongs left
Apart from a few grasses there’s not much vegetation, but therefore a nice view to the hills in the distance
Entering the Mimbi caves
Three grandchildren of our guide
The door to the hut, which were built by the young German women
Sunset view…
…from the Ngumban Cliff
New moon is perishing

Ellendale Rest Station

Sunday seven weeks ago after saying goodbye to Quenten, Meg and me, left Broome. I picked up Meg the day before from the airport, just to watch the AFL (Australian Football League) grand final right in time. In the evening we went to the oldest cinema in Australia(?), which is still in operation since the beginning of the 20th century, for the newest Tarantino movie. After we finished with preparing the car for the next 3,000 km, we headed off at about noon, and made a stop at the first bridge from the Fitzroy river. The river was filled with water, but probably it was just brackish water, as this crossing is pretty close to the mouth into the sea. The drive along the Great Northern Highway was not that spectacular. The only interesting thing is, that the bridges of the highway are just single lane. Hence, you need to take care of approaching Road Trains. In the beginning the road was lined with mangrove and savanna trees, while later grass land for cattle emerged. In the evening we stayed at a rest area next to the street, with some other campers. Luckily the one with the generator was on the other side of the parking area, so the noise level in the evening was not that high.

White cockatoos flying over the Fitzroy river…during rainy season the whole highway can be flooded for about 15km. Hence, you might get a glimpse to which size the river can grow.
Grassland for the cattle industry during late afternoon