When we were planning the trip we had heard of something called the wet season. We knew it existed, when it was, what it did, but we somehow imagined that having installed a snorkel, we would be immune from it. Enough people had given us the confidence that at the tail end, we might have to wait a day or two for the worst roads to open, but we’d make it through if we allowed enough time…

 

The crossing from Broome to Darwin (where we wanted to end the Australian leg of the trip) had been in the back of my mind as a potential ‘trouble spot’ since we left Sydney. Especially since the floods in Queensland and Victoria were so particularly vicious, we knew it wasn’t shaping up to be an optimum travelling year. And, as soon as we started to head north everyday we got closer to Broome, it became clearer that mother nature was working against us. Typically, it would the end of the wet season up north, but as it happened, they were still in the thick of it. Whole towns had been washed away on the highway to the WA/NT border, and even the immediate road from Broome to Derby was closed.

 

Being the eternal optimists that we are, we still drove all the way to Broome, and tottered into the Tourist Bureau to ask how long the bad spell would last for. 3 weeks at a minimum we were told, until the roads would be open again. We felt a bit silly, a bit heartbroken. Another year, and it may have been possible – but the floods were the worst they’d had in a long time, and the level of unpredictability across the country’s weather systems meant that no-one was ready to commit to a forecast. This was annoying for a number of reasons – not just because we had to turn around and drive 4000km back to Fremantle, but mostly because we were meant to be meeting up with our mate Leo in Darwin the following week. It was one of those, ahem, challenges which help clarify your feelings of optimism from your feelings of sheer realism. We stayed a couple of nights in Broome to recover (and just in case a micro-climate produced a mini-drought) and then started the trip back south.

 

Never ones to walk down the same side of the street twice, we decided to wander inland and visit Karijini national park. Unfortunately this meant that we had to spend a night in Port Hedland. It’s probably best if I don’t reflect on just how awful that was, but it did exacerbate the importance of having (a) a mobile provider who can connect to a network in the outback (b) the good sense to organise a camping spot/caravan park in a decent area in advance, rather than rock up at 10pm and have to drive into the only ‘8 mile’ place that’s open and pitch up, only to be abused by some tattooed, scum of the earth carnie the next day for invading the privacy of the residents. That was a bad one. I’ve never been so desperate to get out of somewhere (even Coober Pedy).

 

Karijini National Park is inland, kind of parallel to Exmouth. It’s a bit of a detour but when the distances are massive anyway it’s well worth it. On the outskirts of the red, rocky, mountainous Pilbara landscape it seems too desolate to be a national park by eastern seaboard standards. The long desert roads are punctuated by monstorous mining trucks with tyres the height of Bob, some of which you have to pull off the road to allow them to pass.

 

The national park itself contains a maze of gorges and waterfalls. The first one we camped at was a short stroll down into the gorge with a series of pools you can swim in. After I’d clarified there were absolutely no crocodiles in the vicinity I went for a dip too. The next day we walked the length of the gorge early in the morning before it got too hot. The light early in the morning and the afternoon on the gorge walls casts off bright shades of red, orange and yellow. The scene is exactly like a tourism NT ad, complete with beautiful young people flinging themselves into a watering hole (we went swimming too).

 

The other side of the park – about 70km away – has a series of gorges you have to swim through, and then more difficult ones which you need serious canyoning equipment for. We climbed down the 20 metre ladder into the starting gorge (the only way down) and derobed to start exploring. The first few pools were shallow and easy, and then the walls got steeper and the water cooler, the light darker. And then the spiders kicked in. Up until then I’d been floating around thinking it was called Spider Gorge because it spread out in eight different directions. No one had told me this, I was just being poetically optimistic. No, no, no. Spiders were on the walls, and some were also floating along in the water. I started having flashbacks to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade but without the snappy punch lines and attractive blond Austrian.

 

Despite the critters, swimming through 1 metre corridors where the walls above were over 10 metres high was awesome, but as it progressed and became more slippy, more narrow, bigger drops, I decided to sun myself whilst Joe crusaded on. If there’s one thing I like more than adventure, it’s lying down boringly in the sun whilst other people are having fun.

 

Karijini was the perfect anedote. We’d been feeling super defeated about having to backtrack south. Getting to do some fun stuff instead of being couped up in the troupie made us feel a bit more positive. We also spent a marathon morning climbing the rocky summit of Mount Bruce (name is as tough and rugged as the mountain itself) the 2nd highest peak in WA.