About Us

Welcome to our blog, describing our voyage aboard Bravo, a Kelly Peterson 46 sailboat with homeport in Seattle, Washington. We headed south in 2010, destined for Mexico and beyond. Cheers, Adam and Cindi


"As for me, I am tormented by an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts." -Herman Melville, 1844


Monday, August 15, 2016

Bungling the Bungle Bungle

After leaving the Canning Stock Route dust behind, we headed north into the region known as the Kimberly, a vast area encompassing all of the northern part of Western Australia and even some of the Northern Territory.

Our first stop was Purnululu National Park, home of the World Heritage listed Bungle Bungle Range. This dramatic landscape of dome shaped Karst sandstone formations and gorges, has been formed by wind and water over the last 20 million years.










Access to the park is only via air or 4 wheel drive rig, and is only open during the dry season, approximately mid April to mid October.  This is winter, and the air is at it's coolest temps.  When we were there, temps in the shade were in the mid 30's C., or up to around 100 F.  The park is best explored by hiking, either day hikes or overnight backpacks.  Photo ops are everywhere, and the crowds are moderate due to the 4x4 access road.


Mini Palms Gorge

Our first hike was to a slot canyon called Mini Palms gorge.  The hike was straightforward, a mix of both trail and boulder scrambling up the canyon filled with Livistona palms.  The gorge was beautiful, and best was it was nearly all in the shade.

















Echidna Chasm

The next day we headed up to Echidna Chasm.  This narrow canyon is famous for the light near mid day, at the moment when the sun penetrates to the canyon floor for a brief few minutes.  The rest of the time the canyon is quite dark, given the height of the walls.  We arrived at the deepest point in the hike in plenty of time for the daily event, and already there were heaps of others waiting for the show to start.  Echidna delivered on the hype, the views up and down the canyon were amazing, and were continually changing as the sun moved overhead.

We even saw our first Aussie snake, a fairly small rascal patrolling the canyon floor looking for a feed.  Like seemingly most critters in Australia, the yellow-faced whip snake is poisonous.  Australianmuseum.com says this:  "The yellow-faced whip snake is a venomous snake, but is not considered dangerous. !!!!!   However, a bite could be extremely painful, with much local swelling."  I guess if it won't kill you, it's not "dangerous".  (We love Australia!!!)

















Crowd gathers, waiting for the show to start


Cathedral Gorge

This is perhaps the most famous of all of the hikes in the park.  The trail winds through some great dome scenery becoming a narrow canyon, before ending up in an incredible natural stone amphitheatre.  Carved by water over millions of years, the cave reminded me of Redwall Cavern in the Grand Canyon in the U.S.  The acoustics in the cave are terrific, and we were lucky enough to have it to ourselves for a while before a mob arrived.  Sweet as.




















Yet another Australian Trump Tower


Pickaninny Gorge

For our last hike in the park, we decided to do an 3 day overnight backpack up Pickaninny Creek to explore the depths of Pickaninny Gorge.  Though not especially long, the hike can be a tough one, with no real trail, just boulder hopping and hiking through soft gravel up the dry creek bed.  Registration with the ranger station is required, and hikers are required to carry either an emergency satellite rescue beacon or a sat phone in case of emergency.  It is recommended that you drink 5-8 liters of water daily given the heat.










Cindi soaks up a bit of shade under a rare bush
The heat, ah yes, the damned heat.  This was our first experience in years carrying heavy packs in the desert.  Mid day temps were approaching 40 degrees C. (104 F).  For the first few miles there was absolutely no shade.  We had been told that there was only one reliable source of water, at Black Rock Pool, so we were each carrying perhaps 40-50 lbs with water and camera gear.  Way too much, as we were about to find out.

Our map said it was only about 8.5 km to Black Rocks....just over 5 miles.....how tough could it be???   Well, after the first couple of miles, we were pretty hammered.  After a few of hours of rock hopping and sinking into the deep gravel, we were bonking, and no sight yet of the cooling shade of Black Rock Pool.....it HAS to be here by now.....ughhhh.




Even the frogs trapped when the pools dried up were hurting out here!!!  We felt like this poor guy.....











Finally we came around corner of "the elbow" and saw it up a side canyon, at last.  10 more minutes and we were able to drop our packs.  Though the map had indicated the hike was 8.5 km, our gps showed 11.97 km, a big difference when hiking in temps well over 100.  We've done some tough hikes in our days, but this one really kicked our butts.  We made camp by the cool pool at the base of the cliffs, in an absolutely beautiful spot.  Life did not suck after all, right?














Remember the title of this post?  What's with the "Bungling....."??  Well, after we set up the tent and drank a few liters of water, it was time to cook dinner in the dwindling daylight.  We set up the new backpacking stove, filled the pot with water, and got ready for a great curry event.  "Hey, it looks like this stove doesn't have a built in striker."  "Did you bring a lighter"  "No, I thought this stove was just like our old one, striker should be included"   ".......Oh shit......."

So dinner became the next days lunch of a tin of tuna, some salami slices, cheese, and a couple of granola bars.  This meant we would not be able to hike further up the canyon the next day, as we'd be out of non-cook food.  What was intended to be a two night, 3 day hike up the beautiful gorge was now shortened to 1 night, 2 day bataan death march.  The scenery was beautiful, we had a spectacular camp site, but yup, it was a big time bungle!!!















The next day we just filled our water bags and headed back out.  Again the day was a scorcher, but we left early before the sun was at its height.  Better than the previous days 11am start, but we were still completely spent by the time we reached the rig, and the welcome cold beer in the fridge.....thank you, oh mighty Engel, god of refrigeration!!!











So all in all, it was a good week in the Bungle Bungle.  We did some beautiful hikes, but I'd say we underestimated the intensity of the desert heat for backpacking.  Purnululu is a fantastic national park full of unique geology and landscapes.



Sunday, August 7, 2016

Oh yes we can, oh yes we can, can......

Apologies to the Pointers Sisters given, and hopefully accepted!

The Bravo/Tojo crew has headed into the Outback, in a big way.  Leaving Alice Springs, we headed out to drive the iconic Canning Stock Route.  (Oh yes we can, can....)

Remains of Len Beadell's original supply truck, abandoned after a fire
But to reach the Canning, we first needed to drive the Gary Junction Road, originally put in in the 1960's by Len Beadell and his crew as part of the Woomera nuclear testing range.  The GJR is approximately 1000km of remote gravel, all on aboriginal land (permits required), linking a couple of remote villages and seldom traversed by us "white fellas", as we're known to the indigenous inhabitants.



Typical Gary Junction Road scenery




The GJR traverse proved to be "no drama", really.  The surface was firm and fast, even though fairly badly corrugated in places.  Camping was prohibited in the first 400km stretch of road, so after a bit of a long day, we entered the aboriginal village of Kintore, where we had heard camping "might be available".  The woman who pumped our diesel told us about an area out in the bush known as the Kintore Marbles, famous for beautiful rock formations and sunsets, about 12km down another dirt road, and she said we should be fine camping out there, even though our permit clearly prohibited us from camping anywhere but right along the GJR.  The village was very poor, as are all of the indigenous villages, and signs advised travelers to keep on going, and not to stay in Kintore.  But it was getting late, we were eager to make camp, so headed deeper into the desert to make camp for the night.


After several dead end roads and washouts, we eventually found the Marbles, and what a great campsite it proved to be.  Remote, wild, off the beaten track, with gorgeous scenery and a terrific sunset to cap it off.....Kintore proved an unexpectedly great stop!














Wild dingos wandered by our camp, curious but keeping their distance as they gave us the hairy eyeball.  A bit unnerving at first, but they've proven to be relatively harmless visitors to many of our desert camps.

Typical dingo encounter
And so it went on the Gary Junction Road, driving several hours each day, and camping along the roadside.  We rarely saw another car, though one sped past us and threw a gravel rock into our windshield resulting in a large spreading star.....bastard!


Camels were a common sight along the road, both dead and alive.

Brought over from Afghanistan in the 19th century for transportation and exploration of the western Australian outback, the animals are now considered a feral nuisance.  With over 1 million of the rascals roaming around the country by 2008 (and expected to double every 8 years), the government began a "management program".  Today over 300,000 still cruise the outback, degrading the grazing lands and sacred Aboriginal sites.  Australia has the largest feral camel population of any country in the world.....no kidding!!!

You definitely don't want to hit one of these "ships of the desert" cruising along at 80 kph, as I don't think the "roo bars" on the front of Tojo would help out much!!!




Thankfully most of our camel encounters were much happier occurrences than that with the poor guy shown above.  One night, while drifting off to sleep in our high roof top tent, we heard a loud, slobbery, 'brrrrrrrr-aaaaa-ppppppp-hhhhhhh', right outside the tent window.  Turned out to be a camel flapping his lips as he walked through camp!!!  Took a while to get to sleep after that!












Cindi gets water at Jupiter Well on the GJR.....and yes, the nights were C-O-L-D until we worked our way north

Plaque and register to sign at the intersection of the Gary Junction Road w/ the Canning Stock Route




The Gary Junction Road eventually intersects the Canning Stock Route close to it's midpoint, in the Aboriginal community of Kunawarritji.  Our trusty guidebook ("Australia's Top 100 4 Wheel Drive Adventures"), the bible of Outback adventure travelers, describes the Canning:

"The Canning Stock Route is the most demanding 4WD route in Australia.  There are drives that are rougher, sand dunes that are taller, and floodways that are stickier, but no track compares with the CSR in terms of sheer distance and the mechanical and physical endurance required.  Vehicles must be in top mechanical condition and capable of carrying enough fuel.....

Vehicle and crew preparation is vital and weight must be minimized.  Speed is the enemy of reliability, so take it easy on the CSR and drop tyre pressures in the soft sand to reduce mechanical stress."  



In short, the CSR was calling out to the intrepid Bravo/Tojo's.




So just what is this bad boy of Aussie 4x4 travel all about, anyway?  Well, it's actually just what the name says, a stock route through the desert, not really a road at all.  As originally laid out in 1906 by Alfred Canning, a surveyor with the Western Australian Department of Lands and Surveys, the CSR was a way to drive cattle from the Kimberly cattle stations in the north down to the Kalgoorlie goldfields.  Canning returned in 1908 to locate wells approximately every 25-30km, in order to water the cattle.  Many of these original 51 wells are now in ruins, but several have been refurbished and provide a reliable source of water to travelers of the route.

Obviously the CSR traverses Aboriginal lands, and old Canning was a nasty bastard in his dealings with the original indigenous owners of the land.  He captured and abused many of the locals to get them to show him possible well sites, and as a result, the local people understandably made things rough on the cattle drovers.  A pattern of attacks and reprisals took place, including well poisonings and killings, and by 1930 only 8 "mobs" of cattle had been droved the length of the trail, a 5 month journey.  By the 1950's, only 20 mobs had made the trip, and sea and eventually truck transport took over as the more economical methods of moving cattle long distances.

Sign at the end of the Canning Stock Route tells the sad story of its development.

So, what was the journey like for us?  Well, first of all, Tojo, our trusty Land Cruiser, was the perfect tool for the job.  We had no mechanical failures of any consequence, not even a flat tire.  A good thing, too, as really, "failure is not an option".  In case of a serious breakdown, vehicle recovery costs on the CSR typically run around $15,000.  We carried an HF ham radio, as well as an EPIRB emergency satellite beacon, but happily neither was needed for an emergency.

We did see several old burned out vehicles along the route whose journeys obviously came to a less happy conclusion.















Remains of an old Ford Explorer


Motorcycles have also tried the Canning.......some were successful



The track conditions varied greatly.  Some days crossed continual sand dunes.  Only by reducing tire pressure down to about 20-22 psi were we able to make it up the dunes, sometimes needing our low range gearing.

Happily for us, especially in the area of sand dunes, traffic was very sparse.  (At one point we went 2-1/2 days without seeing another vehicle!!!).  Nonetheless we kept a "sand flag" flying on the front bumper to get greater visibility should a rig be approaching from the other side of a dune, and we gave a call on our UHF CB radio (approx 25 km range) about every 30 minutes to alert any opposing traffic that we were heading south.

Here's a bit of video of some of the dunes......some were harder than these, a few easier, NONE were boring!!!

https://vimeo.com/177886659

Other parts of the trail were deeply corrugated wheel tracks, and it was all we could do to keep Tojo in a sweet speed spot to avoid cracking molars.  At a fast enough speed you sort of skip on top of the corrugations, minimizing stress on us and our gear.....but it could be hard to hold the speed and keep on the road!!!  Therein lies the challenge!!!


















Up one dune, and on to the next......










Often we camped at the old well sites.  Some provided water (which we treated or boiled before using), others just a bit of an oasis.















Flock of finches enjoy the water at a CSR well


One afternoon we came upon a beautiful pool of fresh water, out in the middle of the desert, known as Breaden Pool, where supposedly the drovers enjoyed a cool soak on the trail.  

















A short hike brought us to Godfrey's Tank, where several of the cattlemen etched their names and initials into the sandstone surrounding the pools.


We passed thousands of these termite houses, made of what else, termite shit.  Some were big and easy to see, others might be small, sharp, and hiding right at the side of the track, waiting to pop a tire.

Trump Tower, Aussie style!!!






Old graves could be found at a few wells.......the wording on the tombs told a harsh tale.







Some wells reminded us of a scene out of Breaking Bad, a favorite TV show.....Walt and Jessie would feel right at home here!








Finally it ended.  The track wound up in the Aboriginal settlement of Billiluna, a short distance from Halls Creek.  While we were glad to come out safely, get a chance for an ice cream and to refuel and reprovision, there was certainly a part of us that was sad to see this adventure finish.  


While some of the scenery was dramatic in it's immensity, it was the incredible remoteness which made the CSR travel both unique and magical.  Driving for days without meeting anyone else, sharing camps with only dingos, camels, birds and bugs, and experiencing the incredibly clear, beautifully dark skies of the outback nights made this trip such an amazingly unique experience.







Next up.....on to the Kimberly, with the Bungle Bungles and the Gibb River Road.....stay tuned!