Crocs and Curtis Stone: More reasons to love WA’s Dampier Peninsula.

The drive up the Cape Leveque Road isn’t for the faint-hearted, but my gosh it’s bloody worth it. And so is a good bra.

Cape Leveque, the most well-known place on the Peninsula, is only 240km from Broome but it takes more than three hours to get there. You’ve got to concentrate on the drive because you don’t want to run over any bits and pieces that have been shaken off cars, trucks, trailers and boats ahead of you.

The first 100kms is red dirt, pindan, followed by 100km of bitumen. There are a couple of communities worth visiting on the way. Beagle Bay and Lombadina have incredible missionary histories and their churches have to be seen to be believed.

Cape Leveque is spectacular. It’s the northernmost tip of the Peninsula. Kooljaman is a wilderness camp that’s worth a visit. Facilities are pretty basic and can be expensive (I paid $130 for my beach shelter) . It can be really busy during the dry season but I’ve just had a glorious weekend there in November.

The east beach offers incredible swimming and snorkeling. If you squint you can see me! There are tides like no other in this part of the world. Nine metre tides aren’t uncommon. I was swimming at an almost-high tide.

The west beach offers some awesome fishing (below is a gratuitous photo of the Hilux on the pindan – I just love it!). There’s sand on the other side of that pindan.

Now, it is the Kimberley after all. And while they don’t often mention crocodiles in the tourist brochures, they are around albeit infrequently.

I was chuffed to see evidence of a saltwater croc on my pre-dawn walk at the very location I was swimming at the day before. Yup! Croc tracks!

And check out the brilliant imprint he left behind after relaxing on the beach for a while. I estimated him to be about two metres. There’s a creek about 6km north of the beach so I’m assuming he lives in the mangroves there and just wanders from time to time.

THE PEOPLE YOU MEET

I meet great like-minded people on my travels and every now and again I meet someone who’s worth bragging about. Celebrity chef Curtis Stone is one of those. He was genuinely lovely and was very excited to share his passion for Western Australian produce with me, including some bush tucker that he and some local guides had collected at Kooljaman. He had lunch at Kooljaman and made a point of making his way to the kitchen to thank the young chef. That story made its way to ABC radio. Listen here to hear how over-the-moon the young chef was and how much Curtis was loving his trip north.

Curtis isn’t the only one who can cook up a feast! This is the breakfast I cooked from my beach shack overlooking the East Beach. Not a bad kitchen! The tide was going out at this point. During a high tide the rocks on the beach can’t be seen. If you look closely you can see my ground sheet. That’s where I rolled out my swag.

And how’s this for my bedroom! I often roll my swag out and sleep under the stars. I have to admit this bedroom will be hard to beat. In the far right of the photo you can see the sun coming up. The Dampier Peninsula has the best sunrises I’ve ever seen. (Darwin has the best sunsets, btw.)

GUMBANAN BUSH CAMP.

It’s dubbed the Dampier Peninsula’s best kept secret and I absolutely agree! Gumbanan is about twenty minutes drive east of Kooljaman (close to One Arm Point), and a camp site there is fraction of the cost. For $15 I camped in the most delightful spot (see below). Ridiculous, eh? The bathroom and showers are just as basic as Kooljaman but they do they job nicely. And I didn’t shower or pee alone. There were green tree frogs to keep me company.

I slept in my swag in the back of my Hilux. Heaven really is a great view from a $15 camp site.

The tides are pretty incredible in the north. I sat and watched the tide come in and go out from my camp. Check out the difference in just a few hours!

And a different tidal point of view: Just magic!

It’s a pretty easy place to pour yourself a drink and watch the tides and the wildlife go by. While it be warm in September (the start of what’s called the build up) there’s usually a sea breeze to cool you down. Gumbanan is no exception.

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU’LL SEE

Feral donkeys aren’t uncommon on the Peninsula. You’ll see their calling cards on the road and, if you’re lucky, you’ll see some.

MIDDLE LAGOON

Another gem of a place on the Peninsula! Again, I was there out of season. And look what I saw from near where I was camped! I was up pre-dawn and saw a whale from my swag. On closer inspection she had a new-born calf with her. More magic!

This German tourist Lars was camped beside me so when I saw the whales in the bay we jumped at the chance for a closer look. After a couple of hours of whale watching (yes, hours) Lars went snorkeling and this very active whale made a bee-line for him (photo below). I was watching it all unfold from land. Check out this video I took. The drone vision isn’t mine but the other shots are.

img_20180924_110909_610-1351427409.jpg

Middle Lagoon has both unpowered campsites and cabins. Of course, I was more than happy with my $15 campsite (low season price). This photo was taken at an almost-low tide.

A MUST SEE

The Dampier Peninsula is a most worthy detour if you’re around Broome. Sadly plans are afoot to bitumen the rough Cape Leveque road, making the Peninsula’s communities more susceptible to grog running and drugs, and providing much easier access for tourists to the Peninsula’s relatively unspoiled environment. The Peninsula’s beauty lies in its unspoiled simplicity. An influx of people and a lack of planned infrastructure to cope with those increased numbers threatens that.

I’ve mentioned just some of the great camping spots. There are quite a few more. And there’s also the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm which is a great place for lunch and a swim (See below. That’s me on the left. Tough gig, right?) It also offers a range of accommodation options.

The Dampier Peninsula is a very, very special place – one of my favourites. You’ll need a four-wheel drive to get there.  And it’s probably best to put your tyres down a bit. The road can be very corrugated in parts and sandy in others.

Oh, and take your rod if you’re going camping. The Peninsula’s got great fishing!

 

ABOUT THE BLOGGER:

Lisa Herbert is houseless not homeless. She’s the author of funeral planning guide ‘The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan’ . She’s been travelling around the country for about four years, occasionally filling short-term contracts for the ABC in places like Kalgoorlie, Broome, Tamworth and Darwin. Lisa enjoys blogging about the unusual graves, memorials and cemeteries she finds on her travels. 
Get in touch with Lisa via Facebook .

Advertisements

What Bella baked next: a lot of love from a lonely kitchen

Isabella Britton is a go-getter. She’s a 21 year old cattle station cook in remote western Queensland. She also studies an agribusiness degree full time.

While her Facebook page What Bella Baked Next may appear to be a food blog, the page is about connecting with people from the kitchen at Alderley Station, north of Boulia.

“I wanted to show people what I was up to in rural Australia because some people, city people, don’t understand what I get up to everyday,” she said.

“I want to share with them and show them. I’m passionate about living this way. You can’t beat the lifestyle, the experiences, the work ethic. Everything changes when you come out here.”

She juggles her fulltime online studies while cooking for about a dozen hungry mouths, spending three hours each afternoon doing her university work.

She’s lucky. The internet access on the remote station is reliable, allowing her to access the University of New England’s curriculum, lectures and tutorials online without any problems. This is not the case for many, many people in regional Australia.

Keen to enter the live export industry upon completion of her three-year degree, Bella is majoring in marketing and management.

“I want to help negotiate trade [deals]. It fascinates me when agents come and they’re on the phone constantly negotiating deals. I’d love to be involved in that,” she said.

Bella admits the Alderley Station kitchen can be a lonely place when the station hands are out in the heat and the dust.

“They come in for dinner after a long day and they’re telling stories about what happened and sharing a yarn,” she said.

“Those fellas work very hard, I know they do, and I just want them to come home at the end of the day and say, ‘Thanks for doing that for me, Bella’.

“They’re very polite and I’m grateful for that because it helps me stay motivated.”

What Bella Baked Next is fast becoming an online hub for sharing recipe and kitchen tips.

“It’s great to be able to connect with these people who have been doing it a lot longer than I have,” she said.

Bella credits her mother and grandmothers for her interest in cooking, calling them “fantastic cooks”.

She believed putting love into her food made her a good a cook.

“I imagine that if I was eating it, I would want someone to respect the food and what I was about to eat,” she said.

Station hand Martin Bolton chuckled as he said he could taste the love.

“She does well keeping all of us happy. It’s the best feed I’ve ever had,” he said.

“She puts a lot of time and effort into everything. She puts a lot of heart into her food.”

I tasted that love for the bush and her station team when I ate dinner with them all. Bella’s lasagna went down a treat. The ringers went back for seconds, washed their own plates, and said “thanks for that, Bella. It was yum”.

Station cook Bella

Life on a remote cattle station: my visit to Alderley Station

Working on a cattle station is high on my bucket list. I’m just not sure what I could offer to a station manager though. I’d love to be a station cook. But I can’t cook …

Looking after 15,000 cattle is a big job. On Alderley Station in remote western Queensland, a team of station hands joins the bosses for breakfast even before the birds have started stirring.

I dropped in on my way to Darwin and was welcomed with an offer of beer and bed.

The sound of a diesel generator that powers the station’s few houses and workshops breaks the early morning silence — a sign that the boss is awake and the workers should be too.

The generator chews through about 1200 litres of diesel a month. It’s turned off overnight, leaving the property with no power. When I got up to pee in the middle of the night I was thankful for my trusty torch.

It was 6am when I joined the team for breakfast. The station’s owners, Frank and Radha Blacket are my age. They dine with their team which isn’t that common. Often cattle station managers and bosses tend to do their own thing. But this couple is very hands on and accessible.

The work for the day was dished out at breakfast. Some of the team will spend the day putting in a cattle grid and servicing the motorbikes, while a few ringers will join the boss mustering. About 1000 cows and calves needed to be brought into the yards. It will take most of the day.

The Blackets own three properties in the Boulia region in western Queensland, totalling more than half a million hectares.

The number of cattle is forever fluctuating, with stock being bought and sold all the time.

“We run Charbray cattle because they’re versatile. They can go to live export and they can go to the southern, domestic market as well,” Mr Blacket said.

Prices dictate where the cattle are sold. The Blackets’ biggest market recently has been the live export trade.

“They’ve needed a lot of cattle and we’ve been able to supply them,” Mr Blacket said. “Sometimes they want emergency loads so we can supply them pretty quick.”

Mrs Blacket does not only spend time in the station office crunching numbers and doing deals. Like her husband, she is hands-on, often behind the wheel of a road train, trucking her cattle to market.

“We’re in a good position to be able to go to whichever market is paying the premium at the time,” she said.

Despite Alderley Station being closer to Townsville Port than Darwin, the Blackets’ cattle are exported to Indonesia from Darwin. That’s a 1,850km on a truck from the property at Boulia to Darwin Port.

The rowdy ringers.

Meal times on Alderley Station can be a fun, loud affair. The station cook, Bella, is a 21 year old studying an agribusiness degree via distance ed. She’s one hell of a cook and the ten station hands are big fans of her work. (A blog about Bella is coming.)

Most of the ringers (station hands) are young guys who love the lifestyle and sense of family at the station. They’re a rowdy mob – sitting together laughing, spinning yarns, teasing and even flirting with the guest who’s twice their age!

Dillon Fox, from Boonah in Queensland, is a carpenter by trade. Keen for a change, he joined his brother on Alderley Station five months ago and has not been fazed by the long working days on the property.

“It’s a good lifestyle. You don’t really notice it as work,” he said. “We’ll have a few days when the work slows down, go to a campdraft or something.”

Martin Bolton is helping Dillon put up a new fence. Once working in property development earthworks, he has recently taken a new career path.

“Out here we get a go at everything — cattle, welding, tyre fitting. You’ve got to be an all-rounder here,” said Marty. “It’s good to learn different things.”

Away from the wind and the hot sun, Ethan Tindale relaxes with a beer after dinner. Originally a Townsville lad, he is happy living and working in western Queensland.

“The people, the community — it’s like being a big family,” he said.

“You know everyone in town and once you get accepted here it’s a really comfortable place to live.”

Travel trip #1. Always sit at the bar.

“I’ll have a scotch and coke, thanks. And a story.”

People who sit at the bar after ordering their drink or meal are either locals or travellers who are up for a chat. Both are a source of information, adventure, amusement or frustration.

I met the owner of the Tatts Hotel in Winton 18 months ago when I sat at his bar. Three strangers, also bar-sitting travellers, and the boss ended up having a rather large night.

Paul immediately recognised me on my return this week. He’s lost 12 kilos since I last saw him so he wasn’t as familiar to me. He quickly sidled up to me and the chatting began, right where we left off. About 60, he’s the best publican I’ve ever met – he’s a ‘people man’. The pub’s steaks are easily the best pub steaks in the country, his staff the most efficient, the pub is character-filled, and his friendly, welcoming ways earns every repeat customer he gets. And there are a lot of them. Myself included.

He buried his wife, aged 56, just a couple of years ago. Always an active, smart, worldly chap, he continues to travel and pursue his hard core extreme interests, dodgy knees ‘n all.

Paul’s just returned from a caving expedition in Borneo. He didn’t see daylight for three days. He, his guide, and two others climbed and abseiled within a series of 55 metre high caves lined with bats and with a carpet of cockroaches. His enclosed suit fended off the shit of thousands and thousands of bats, his pack held everything he needed for three days, including port. You see, he was tethered from the cave ceiling to sleep. (The cockroaches make it impossible to sleep at the bottom of a cave.) After making a rope cradle for a bed and, without any cushioning or pillow, the port would help him sleep.

Knowing Paul would not let his screwed knees stop his adventurous endeavours, a young, innovative sports doctor worked with his stubborn client to ensure he’d make the trip. A weight loss program and controversial platelet injections directly into knee did the trick.

A similar regime (but increased six-fold) will be in place next year when he tackles Borneo’s most difficult and highest peaks and, after that, Galapagos.

Not bad for an ol’ western Queensland publican, eh?

Put the Tattersalls Hotel in Winton on your bucket list. Order a steak (medium rare) and make sure you sit at the bar because that’s were the stories are.

image

A camel tow

When Glenn Bainbridge from Winton in far western Queensland noticed his six camels had been in the good paddock for too long he decided they needed some exercise.

So he and wife Sue hitched them up to a homemade wagon and hit the road.

Pulled by Teddy and Blondie, the cart is packed with everything the Bainbridges need for a few months on the road.

Four other camels tied to the wagon will take turns pulling it.

Just a few days into the journey the destination remains unknown.

“Just going on a trip, a working holiday, there’s no time limit, maybe Alice Spring or may change our minds. We don’t know,” Mr Bainbridge said.

While the camels adjust to life on the road and get fitter they will travel up to 25 kilometres each day, however that will increase soon.

“In their peak they’ll be doing 30 kilometres in six hours.”

Mr Bainbridge admitted the interest his camels attracted from passing traffic could be difficult to manage.

“If I hear a car coming up behind us we pull off and let them pass.

“I try not to stop because if I stopped for everybody I’d never get anywhere.”

Serendipity: a chance meeting and an affirmation

imageserendipity: “The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.”

My little adventure was off to a slow start. A late night/early morning drinking and chatting meant my northern departure was delayed. After driving the most boring road in the country (the Bruce Highway) for five-and-a-half hours I’d had enough. I checked into a dodgy motel in Australia’s beef capital, Rockhampton.

200km behind schedule and a little knackered I walked into the Great Western Hotel, a brilliant pub with the heads of stuffed bulls ‘decorating’ the walls as well as dozens of photos of bull riders in action. Out the back is a huge bull riding arena. I think you’d struggle to find a vegetarian meal in this pub.

I instantly recognised a guy at the bar. I worked with him 16 years ago. “Lisa!,” he excitedly said as he opened his arms. A hug from him was quite a treat. He is a favourite of many. A kind, gentle nature, sparkling eyes, and a genuine smile has always made the girls swoon. Now in his mid-40s, with a peppering of grey, he still makes the girls swoon. SWOON.

A 15-minute chat followed as we stood at the bar, him with a lemon lime and bitters, me with a scotch. He’d just finished walking across the Simpson desert, fundraising for YoungCare. He and his adult son rode motorbikes around Cambodia – his son decided to stay. Mr Swoon plans on retiring soon, moving down to the coast with his new partner, and going off the grid. His prognosis is two-eight years, thanks to a brain tumour.

He told me of his adventure plans. Among them are Cradle Mountain and Everest.

“You’ve got to live life, Lisa.”

I smiled and nodded. Yes, yes you do.