A road less travelled

Wildflowers

Left Exmouth Thursday bound for Onslow. If we visit Exmouth again it will be later in the season when it is not so crowded and we can stay in Cape Range National Park. On the way out we visited a WW11 memorial to Operation Jaywick which resulted in the boat Krait leaving from Exmouth Bay and raiding Singapore Harbour. The Krait is now afloat in Sydney Harbour as part of the Maritime Museum.  It was hard to imagine the Exmouth Gulf as it would have been during WW11 when it was a major naval centre for the Allies.

The road from Exmouth to Onslow is bitumen all the way and once again wall to wall with caravans. Unfortunately the southern dirt track into Onslow was closed because of recent rain so we really did have to keep to the bitumen.

OnslowWe made for Three Mile Pool a free camp which is 17 kilometres before Onslow and 19 kilometres down a dirt track. I couldn’t believe it when we arrived, there must have been 30 to 40 caravans camped here. There goes my theory about dirt roads stopping most caravans. Apparently in the just finished school holidays it was packed, no room to swing a cat. The popularity of books such as “Camps6” showing free camping areas has persuaded a lot of caravaners who would not normally venture off the bitumen to visit some of these better free camps when there is not too much dirt involved. Unfortunately the caravan industry has not kept pace with the increasing popularity of “bush camping”. Poor suspensions and lack of solar power are still evident on most vans.

Anyway despite the crowds we found a good camp alongside the waterhole. No swimming though as there was a possibility of crocodiles. The road running alongside the water hole was busy with mining vehicles and machinery on it all the time. Thankfully each morning a water truck camp through to lay the dust. There is a natural gas project underway that we found is having a profound effect on the town. Friday morning drove into the town of Onslow and on the surface it looked little different from when we visited two years ago.

Bottle Dump at Old OnslowOnslow has an interesting and varied history. The town moved from the mouth of the Ashburton River in 1925 when the river mouth silted up to its present site in Bearden Bay. Before WW11 it was an important pearling centre but the beds were worked too heavily and never recovered, bombed by the Japanese during the war it then seemed to have slumbered, except for several cyclones until the present century when things have started to happen. A new jetty has ben constructed to enable the export of salt mined from large evaporation pans. Tourists started finding the town. We talked to a couple who told us they couldn’t get into either caravan park as they were both full. But the biggest impact on the town is the natural gas project currently getting underway. This has placed a strain on a town which has very limited accommodation to offer. We noticed a new motel almost complete and several houses being built. Currently there are a series of forums being held so that the residents can have an input into the future development of the town.

Cells and exercise yard at Old OnslowPurchased some fillets of local Golden Band Snapper. Unlike down south almost all fish in the tropics are filleted and frozen on board the fishing vessel, usually by blast freezing. So fresh fish here is frozen. Cooked the Golden Band Snapper in a little butter for supper, it was delicious!

We then explored Old Onslow town.  Not a great deal left except the police building which apparently were the only stone buildings. Large bottle dumps at several places around the old town. These had all been seriously scavenged and we couldn’t find any unbroken bottles. The old cells were interesting, very small, even the exercise yard was only about three metres by three metres. In the centre of each cell and the exercise yard was a large ring bolt. Perhaps for unruly prisoners? Anyway it definitely would not have been a good place to be a prisoner.

Claypan campSaturday we left Three Mile Pool. Meeting the North West Highway we turned south for approximately 115 kilometres until we came to a dirt road that would take us about 300 kilometres SE to Mount Augustus. The first 60 kilometres was a really good dirt road as it lead to a mining site, after this the road deteriorated to a single track but with the exception of a few corrugations was still in good condition. We averaged 60 kilometres an hour on it. Bush flies are starting to become a bit of a problem during the heat of the day and we are all wearing fly veils until sunset when the flies disappear. Around 3:30PM we made camp beside the road on a clay pan. We had not seen another vehicle since turning off the highway. It was a good camp, plenty of fire wood and no one else as far as the eye could see.

Whilst out of mobile phone range I usually call up VKS737 the national four wheel drive high frequency radio network. They have transmitter bases around the country and will log your position and pass on messages. My HF set is pretty primitive, it was originally a School Of The Air  radio and is about 25 years old. However I have never once failed to make contact with VKS737, sometimes working bases several thousand kilometres away. The only draw back with my HF is that it is a portable unit and requires setting up each time I want to use it.

Lyons River crossingSunday we departed our clay pan camp for Mount Augustus. Careful driving was called for as although the road was in good condition there were a lot of river and creek crossing that you came on quite suddenly. With the exception of the Lyons River all the rivers and creeks were dry. We had a laugh at some of these crossings as there were large signs saying “No Parking and No Overtaking on the Causeway” and as we hadn’t seen a single vehicle for two days we thought these signs a bit bureaucratic to say the least. A lot of the road was floodplain and once it started to rain this huge area of flat country would be awash. No time to be on the roads then.

Mount AugustusMount Augustus when it came into view was spectacular. This huge rock is three times the size of Ayers Rock rising 715 metres from the plains around it.  It is just so big that I found it impossible to take a photograph that does it justice. We camped on Mount Augustus Station. This is a million acres station and is privately owned by two brothers. The drought here has just broken after ten years and they are currently trying to round up what stock remain. No stockmen involved at this stage, just a fixed wing plane to try and find the stock in such a vast area. Mount Augustus (the rock) is a National Park and there is no camping allowed but the station only charges $15 per night for an unpowered site and the facilities are pretty good, we even have a bit of grass. Don’t confuse grass in the outback with a suburban lawn, you would be very disappointed, but as it breaks up the red dirt somewhat it is pretty good.

This morning went for a drive around Mount Augustus (the rock). There is a 49 kilometre circuit that takes you around the rock with several diversions to walking tracks and look outs. We only attempted the shorter walks. Tomorrow we head for Meekatharra.

Mount Augustus Station, Monday 1 August 2011

(written by Seth, edited by Vicki)

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