Where are we now?
We are at Mount Elizabeth Station
Hopping along The Gibb and Biting Things
We are now hopping along the Gibb from camp to camp, some more sophisticated than others and all creating a memory of some sort which we are recording here.
As we drive along the Gibb which as a 4WD road varies in ride quality from quite smooth to very very rough, the scenery continues to impress us and it is very common for us simply to stop and admire what we can see in front of us.
However, you may have gathered that one issue for us is Toilets and as an indicator of the hardship we often face, I show you the March Fly Glen rest stop which promises long drop toilets, a picnic table and a fire pit (for a barbecue). The March Fly (aka Tabanid) is another one of Australia’s biting pleasures.
To quote from a guide to what bites you:
"Female tabanids are armed with two large blade-like mouthparts, that are used to pierce and slash skin. This inflicts a painful wound and produces a large puncture site that will continue to ooze blood long after the mouthparts are extracted. As the blood flows, the flies lap the blood to engorgement, unless disturbed."
Another website helpfully tells us:
"One small, brown species occurring in the north-west (Pilbara and Kimberley) of Western Australia, appears to produce serious symptoms in some people, including hives, fever, wheezing and in severe cases, anaphylaxis."
So we are somewhat careful about this
Here we are parked in the rest stop - the long drop is the green hut on the right
the long drop outside
and inside. We felt the March Fly would be only too evident and moved - there is always Plan B (the shovel).
For protection against biting insects we use Bushman which is a 40% Deet fly repellent. It works although it is very smelly and oily, however that is better than being bitten. We have not found it on sale in the UK so before we leave Australia, we will buy another large can and keep it in store for the future. We also use a Boots Bite and Sting Relief Click It which is absolutely superb on bites you have managed to collect. The latest design is not as easy to use as the earlier design but it really is a very good thing to have (and it is very small and cheap).
Silent Grove and Bell Gorge
Silent Grove is an official Western Australia DEC Campsite about 19 kms off the Gibb and it is now the camping point
for people wanting to stay and visit Bell Gorge, a gorge which has a reputation for being one of the most beautiful ones along the Gibb.
The campsite is run by volunteers
and we follow the general routine of paying our fees, questioning the volunteers about anything and everything,
checking out the toilets (flushing !) and showers (solar, hot and with lights) and finding a pitch with some shade.
The campsite has a lot of birds, in particular cockatoos who are either in a flock
or pairs and are very noisy. A large Goanna also wanders through the camp and we are too intrigued with it to remember our camera.
When we drive away somewhere during the day, the accepted technique of saying “this place is ours and is taken” is to leave your chairs and table where you have parked. I have never known this to be ignored or for the chairs and table to go missing.
Bell Gorge is 10 kms up the road and we park and then start walking
having first studied the official map and then looked for signs. Australia is very inconstant with the quality of its walk signage, the accuracy of walk distances, their graded difficulty and marking interesting things along the way. We have undertaken 30 minutes in each direction 1.5 km walks which have taken 2 minutes in each direction and 3.5 km 1 hour walks which have seemed double that.
The vegetation in the immediate area of the start shows the power of the bush to recover from the frequent scrub fires out in the bush. Despite there being significant evidence of a recent fire, new growth is everywhere.
The walk to the Gorge is supposedly 1.5 km each way and requires an hour in each direction. Divide these by two and you get a roughly accurate answer. In this case the trail is reasonably marked with poles and yellow markers
and first leads to a lovely quiet pool
and then on through the bush
to the waterhole above the waterfall
which, as always in this part of Australia, seems to show significant evidence of geological activity
and from where you can see (or walk down to) the lower pool
which is fed by a cascade of water falls
which are appreciated by two explorers
who happened to be in the area (note the strata on the background).
Imintji used to be a regular supply place on the Gibb until 2015 when it suddenly closed. This reduced the number of fuel stops on the main GRR down to one (Mount Barnett) and made it more difficult for some travellers to cover the Gibb. There were still of course some places up the side tracks with fuel but not everyone wants to go to them, particularly if they are more than 50 kms up a side track just to refuel.
In May 2016, rumours started to appear that Imintji was to reopen and to our delight when we got there in early June, we found that they were true.
Diesel was available at $2 a litre, there were a few provisions on sale and much to our surprise, Satellite WIFI was available at $5 per 100Mb.
They had also opened a rather rudimentary campsite which would be useful for those going straight through or unable to get into Silent Grove during the peak season.
To one side was an Aboriginal Arts Shop which did not seem to be getting a lot of trade but then at the moment, not many people know it is open. To our surprise, they had Satellite Internet and hence there was an unexpected opportunity to catch up on emails and post a blog update.
Charnley River Station
Charnley River Station used to be a cattle farm until it was purchased by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy
and it follows what seems to be an increasingly common practice of charging you an access fee to the property ($25) and also a camping fee.
To get there you drive about 40 kms off the Gibb up the usual 4WD track
and it helps to have a gate opener with you when you do it. The track was in terrible condition when we drove in but by the time we left the following day, three graders had been down it and it was very smooth.
There are a couple of river crossings
and the usual traffic hazards which have to be approached carefully because they are very unpredictable. Some Brumbies (wild horses) we met elsewhere decided that the best way to deal with us was to zig zag across the road in front of us as fast as they could run until they ran out of energy.
The Charnley website advertises a lot of different activities but when we checked in,
we were told that most of them were not yet offered and they were "plans for the future". We were also told that Mosquitoes were a problem (and actually they were not really a problem at all).
The campsite was a large grass field with good shade and
a number of good toilet and shower blocks
with the usual wildlife problem. We have seen a number of snakes (none in the toilets) and quite a few frogs and lizards (in the toilets).
There are a number of Gorges which you can drive to
although the internal tracks are in quite poor condition and driving is a bit of a task.
We went to DonkeyHole
which was pleasant enough but nothing special.
It was an interesting place which was comfortable and a nice to stay at. It does however need to work on its marketing so that it either tells the truth about what is available or actually puts some of them on. It would not have taken much effort to put together a talk about the wildlife on the Station or the history of the Station or even the objectives of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and why they have purchased the station.
Galvins Gorge is 1 km off the main Gibb, it used to be closer but they closed the track leading to it and now you park just off the road and then walk through the bush to get to it.
The track is reasonable but walking boots are better than sandals.
The gorge waterhole is beautiful
and there is a nice Boab Tree standing sentry over the waterhole. Behind the waterfall on the right is some Aboriginal Rock Art which you can photograph if you take your camera into the pool with you.
Mount Barnett and Manning Gorge
300kms from one end and 400 kms from the other end sits Mount Barnett.
This roughly midway place is where everyone stops to refuel ($2.09 per litre),
to resupply and often to stay at the nearby Manning Gorge Campground which is run by them.
The store has most things you might need and also frozen bread (which we do need)
some vegetables at a premium price (but you have to remember the location costs)
and LPG refills - the possible absence of which was a worry for us. We are however making our LPG last well by being very careful with its use.
Manning Gorge Camp Ground
The campground and the start of the walk to the Gorge are 7 km down a 4WD track
and bluntly, we thought that the campground was a bit of a rip off place and one of the poorest camps we had been to.
The track down is the standard 4WD track but with a very poor river crossing. We met two people earlier this week who had lost their front Rego plate at the crossing because it bottomed out in the middle. I thought that by now they would have dumped a few rocks in it to reduce the problem but they had not. We have a high wheel base so we managed it easily but others are not so lucky.
For a fee of $17 each, you get access to a “park anywhere you want to” place which has virtually no facilities for your money.
There are quite a lot of shady spots within the trees and campfires can be lite anywhere.
There are two enormous Boab Trees at the entrance to the camp ground.
We both have tremendous affection for these trees, which in Australia are only found in the North.
The area closest to the Amenities (as they are called) is reserved for Wild Camping Tour Buses and there are about 12 tents on wooden platforms set up in a semi-circle around a campfire and a large dining table.
The “Amenities” are three toilets and three showers for each gender to serve a campsite which might have 600+
people in it at peak season. One of the male toilets was broken and another had run out of toilet paper when we were there - the site caretaker did nothing about it.
There is lighting in the toilet block until around 2030 and from then onwards it is bring a torch or do it in the dark.
The water on site is not drinking water because it comes directly from the river but this is not a problem because you are warned about this before you drive down and fresh water is available at Mount Barnett.
I am saying this in the blog rather than a TripAdvisor review because many people access blogs when doing their trip research and it is useful to them if they read it here!
Manning Gorge itself is well documented elsewhere and it certainly is a pleasant spot for children and those who have perhaps not seen some of the less busy gorges elsewhere.
There is now a pull yourself across the river ferry boat as a replacement to the Eski of earlier years
I met somebody there whom I had met on the plane out to Australia - she seems to be popping up everywhere I go.
The Waterfall Walk itself is well signposted with warnings not to start it after 1 pm. Most sensible people started it at 7 am or before in order to avoid the heat of the day. We arrived too late to start it on the day we arrived and because we felt the campground was so poor, we decided to move on the next day - we had already seen quite a few gorges and were happy to miss this rather crowded one.
The fish in the river seem to be a form of Cleaner Wrasse and carry out their role on anything they find in the river and of course we went into the river to cool off. Over the past few weeks I have accumulated a number of mosquito bites and other wounds on my legs and the fish made straight for these places and started to nibble away the dead skin and infected areas.
You have to stand still for a few minutes and then a number will start circling your legs and summoning up the courage to approach the wound. I felt a sudden sharp nip as I was bitten and it was rather amusing (and painful) to watch how they set about their work.
Does it work you might wonder? All I can say is that next morning, the places which had been Cleaner Wrassed had healed over and looked considerably healthier than those places which had not been given the fish treatment.
One of the most important times of the day for us when we are on the road is “Beer and Crisps Time” - an opportunity to rebalance our salt and fluid levels. And here we are testing VB and Crisps ! Usually we come back from these trip slightly heavier than when we went out, I suspect that this ritual may be partly to blame.
Mount Elizabeth Station
Further down the Gibb is Mount Elizabeth Station
which was our next stop.
It is also up the usual long 4WD track and was quite a pleasant place to stay.
Of continuing interest to us on arrival is the toilet block
and these were quite good with flushing toilets and lights which worked at night despite its remote location.
It is always important to close the lid and then the door after use and also to turn out the lights, the intention being to keep wildlife out.
To quote Mrs Harvey “I do not mind the Wallabies but I dislike sharing the toilet with Snakes and Frogs and I am not particularly fond of Goannas”.
So far on this trip we have had a number of Lizards and Goannas in the toilets, a few frogs and millions of ants but no Wallabies !
We went on a self guided Bush Walk here
and managed to complete it without getting lost and got back before sun down. The mud map we were given was a bit rudimentary and the route we had to take was the brown road and the green loop.
To start it, we had to cross a paddock inhabited by a fierce donkey (it actually kicked some walkers earlier in the day)
and we were told to take a stick with us and hit it on the nose if it got troublesome and also not to walk behind it.
We also were admired by some wallabies who kept their distance from us.
The walk initially took us along a sandy track,
then across a few rivers
and into the fields / pasture / bush.
We managed it by skilful navigation and looking for footprints of others who had done the same walk. We liked this place, the birds were noisy and wonderful, the facilities were sufficient for the number of campers and it was quiet.