Over the past six weeks we have become experienced assessors of places to stay although most of the faults and strengths of a camp site, hotel or wayside stopping point do not become apparent until too late. Tiredness at the end of a long day, and sometimes a total lack of choice can affect judgement.
Camping is such a way of life out here that nearly every town of any size has at least one camp site and if it is on one of the major roads going across Australia, then there can be up to a dozen to choose from. Some are members of one of the national chains but most are independently operated. Some take advanced bookings, useful if you know where you want to stay and the area is popular, others are simply “first come first served”. We have stayed at massive sites with hundreds of campers and small ones with only 20. Most seem to have some permanent residents whose pitch has over time, adopted a settled air with plants, sun shades, and even their own post box.
A typical campsite will have a mixture of:
unpowered sites which are popular with tent campers and those whose caravan has its own generator;
powered sites - you park your van and can then connect it to mains electricity at a nearby power pole (which usually has water as well) to run the aircon, fridge etc);
ensuites which are powered sites but with your own toilet and shower in a small outhouse (Pat’s favourite but not always available) close to the van
chalets (small houses with a bedroom, bathroom etc)
a strange cabin (called a Dongar) made by subdividing a shipping container into a number of units, sometime without a window, just big enough for two single beds side by side
Caravans occupied by permanent residents which usually reflect the fact that they cannot afford much and are not going anywhere in the near future
Most have wildlife around and in the camp. We have got used to frogs in the bowl or shower and the occasional wallaby in the toilets, the variety of bird life is a pleasure, the attentions of insects less so. The amount of shade available varies, an ideal campsite has shading trees for all campers.
Prices at Campsites we have stayed at for powered sites have ranged from $20 (£10) for two people up to $35 per night, and ensuites have been from $30 to $45. Chalet / Motel rooms are typically $110 plus. There seems to be no logic on pricing – isolated places or popular places can be cheap or expensive, sites can be very crowded with everyone packed close together or spread out with significant distance in between pitches (even in the same town).
Campsites usually have random combinations of: swimming pools, a cafe usually selling expensive meals, a camp kitchen where you can cook your own food, a pub bar, a small shop selling a mixture of some of what you might need and a lot of what you certainly do not need, internet access (sometimes wifi), fuel, lpg gas, tour bookings etc.
If campsites were allowed only one criteria for their quality score we would base it on the toilets, showers and clothes washing facilities. These items are not so important to large caravan owners with their own integral shower and toilets – all they need are dump points but for us, they are well used and important. Facilities have varied in quality from the appallingly awful where clenched buttocks are preferable to usage through to the average which are just tolerable to very good with paper towels, soap, constant hot water etc.
At Pine Creek the toilets were built from adobe brick (mud and straw),
despite the plumbing problem which led to flooding, the gents were tolerable, the ladies (best not shown) were “clenched buttocks”.
There are the occasional surprises however. Halls Creek is a very run down town in the Kimberley with major Aboriginal community problems and the campsite in town looks awful. The person running it however is delightful and the toilets etc are some of the cleanest we have every seen with chairs to sit in if you have to wait your turn and books to read etc. This facility was enough to make us stay a second night rather than go on to a rough desert campsite.
We appreciate that maintaining communal facilities is a thankless task, and certainly some campers leave them in an appalling condition but in our opinion, they make (or break) a site for those that stay there.
Fitzroy Crossing – a town in the middle of nowhere in the Kimberley had the most astonishingly good camp site – the best we have ever stayed at. Just outside Broome however, we found the worst one so far but had to put up with it because this part of Australia is full – the Northern half of Australia attracts campers by the thousands during the winter because of the nice climate, and Broome in particular attracts them.
You can always strike up a conversation with your fellow campers who provide a source of information on routes, what to see and not see, fuel availability, booking need etc. Most assume we live in Australia and are truly surprised and pleased at what we are doing.
At one camp site (Halls Creek) in an old gold prospecting area, our next door neighbour told us that he was now a full time gold prospector and
showed us the results of his efforts to prove it. The above are nuggets of raw gold, some relatively pure, others embedded in mineral.
The drive across the Kimberley (known as Australia's last real wilderness) to get to Broome was one of the most boring we have done with only the occasional enormous Boab Tree to brighten up the road.
When one talks about long straight boring roads with nothing in the countryside, this is what we mean.
Where we have come from.
Where we are going to.
And so after some 6000 km we get to the Indian Ocean at Broome
and we are looking forward to four nights in a hotel in the centre of town. We had always promised ourselves some nights of luxury and half-way through the trip, we are having some. Clean sheets and a double bed awaits us together with a chance to get haircuts, go to the cinema (Broome has a famous outdoors cinema which you will have seen in the film Australia masquerading as one in Darwin) and other hedonistic things which old travellers are entitled to from time to time.
Sam, here are another set of pictures for you – a Jeep used by a Gold Prospector
and some Road Trains - we are seeing a large number at the moment. The biggest has 88 wheels.
This Road Train is not long but it is carrying an enormous truck used in the mines to carry rocks.