Three Years on the Road
Brett Davis

79. Diary of the Two Week Tourists

Our two weeks as tourists in Broome were fantastic. We did not exactly need a break from cycling, having ridden on only five days in the previous eighteen, and two of those days had been less than twenty kilometres each when we rode from Derby to Birdwood Downs prior to our week of woofing, and afterwards rode back. The work on the property had been tough and the conditions fairly spartan, but perhaps the ratio of one week of work to two week of holidays was a bit indulgent of us.

Day 1:
I was up early to photograph the sunrise. When Karen rose a little later, at 7am, we walked down to the beach and out to the water which was now a kilometre away across a slightly muddy plain of flat sand. After brekkie we walked into town to look at the shops and to pick up two Blue Banana t-shirts from the post office, courtesy of Wendy in Darwin. Along with the t-shirts was a note, with Wendy telling us that cyclist Marcus from Warmun, and woofers Anna, Katrina and Nathan from Birdwood Downs were the four people we had rounded up for her tour. We checked out some art galleries, pearl shops, did some banking and went on a self-guided history walk around the town.

Ran into Nortia (smirk) from Birdwood Downs who brought us up to date on her adventures with Yuki and Yvonne. Also saw Peter and Mihkala and gave them my nicad batteries which were no longer needed after "misplacing" the solar charger. Then back to the caravan park for a cuppa and a bit of reading prior to the evening. Karen shopped for dinner while I wrote up the diary and rested my tired feet. I had really gotten into the laid back Broome lifestyle and had walked around barefoot all day. Bloody idiot! We wined and dined at our table on the beach.

Day 2:
Up at 6am for quick brekkie and ride to Gantheaume Point to try to view dinosaur prints. Road was sandy and pretty bad but we persevered, our arrival delayed until after the tide had started rising. The prints are only visible at low tide and only near full and new moons. I quickly gave up the search for prints in favour of rock formation photography around the small but spectacular cliffline. Karen kept trying - unsuccessfully.

Rock formation on Gantheaume Point

We did not back-track from the Point but continued around the tourist drive circuit, occasionally forced to push Elle and Mel through deep sand on our way to the deep water port a half dozen kilometres south of the town. We watched the fishermen for a while, and saw one guy catch a blue bone, which he said were marvellous eating. Then it was back to the caravan park for a relaxing afternoon at our table, reading, swimming, and walking the beach again at low tide late in the evening.

Spoke to oldies cleaning fish - cod, schnapper, and another blue bone, which is also called a Venus Tusk. Peter and Mihkala found us late in the arvo and we all went to a local Thai restaurant for dinner. The food was okay but expensive, especially for Peter and Mihkala who are even meaner than us, which is no easy task. They shared a main course and rice, while Karen and I celebrated two thousand kilometres since Darwin, swimming in the Indian Ocean, reaching Broome and anything else we could think of.

Day 3:
At 9am Karen and I walked to Matso's Store to check out its art then crossed the road to a walk through the mangroves. Saw no birds, so continued on into town along the edge of the water. Karen spotted a female red-headed honeyeater - new bird. We stopped at the bank to pick up a statement, pay MasterCard and get some cash out after our splurge of the previous night. Our balance showed we only had five hundred dollars left - will have to watch our pennies for a few weeks until the next rent deposit comes in.

Walked back to caravan park via mangroves and saw a Mangrove Golden Whistler, another good tick. Also spotted Dusky Gerygones and a White Breasted Whistler which we had first seen in a similar habitat at the Derby wharf. Met Peter and Mihkala at caravan park and had lunch with them.

Read until 3:30pm then rode to Cable Beach for swim, a read, and a sunset over ocean. Peter and Mihkala and Mac joined us. Sunset not real good, and it meant we had to ride back to the caravan park in the dark with no front lights. Naughty!

Me and bikes on Cable Beach

Day 4:
Awoke to a brisk southerly breeze, before writing up diary and reading. Karen rang the Broome Bird Observatory for information about volunteer work. They said we could come out and work for them as part of a study which was counting and collecting animals out on the mud flats, but we would have to pay for our accommodation and contribute equally for the food. Bugger paying for the privilege of working! Declined their offer.

Looked at the Broome Bird Observatory tour times to see when they thought it best to view different habitats and found mangroves best studied at low tide, shore either side of high tide. Plan to visit the Broome Bird Observatory with Peter and Mihkala in Kombi on day trip if possible, as the sand road out is apparently pretty bad.

At 11am rode out to Chinese and Japanese cemeteries to do our tourist bit, then into town to buy some riding gloves for me as the other ones are cactus. On the way back to caravan park I put chain on big cog at front and big cog at back - bad move. Could not change into any other gear when chain went as tight as a drum. Could not free the chain so had to loosen it by removing the back wheel. I have obviously taken out too many links, and need a new one. Have been told that there is a good bike shop in Karratha - only nine hundred kilometres away - hope the chain lasts that long.

Japanese Pearler Cemetery

Had lunch by the beach, more reading, postcards, swimming. Karen and I saw a small ray launch itself clear of the water - spectacular! Spoke to Ken and Rai from Warrnambool, whom we had recently met at the Prison Boab. They invited us in for arvo tea and biscuits which continued until all the shops closed, so Karen and I had pasta and pesto on our table at the beach. Booked a bird tour with a local ornithologist for a couple of days hence.

Day 5:
Friday 13th June - black Friday. Karen went to caravan park office to ask if they had any ant spray after we found thousands under our mats in the tent this morning. She noticed her name on the message blackboard outside the office, and rang home to find out from a very emotional Kevin that Barbara's father Ernie had died at 7am this morning, Broome time. In Derby we had been told that he was not doing too well, but it was a bit of a shock to hear that we would never see him again.

Spent morning killing ants, washing clothes and shoes, writing up the diary and doing crosswords. Rode to Durack Gallery at 11am to see the works of Elizabeth Durack of Argyle Station fame. Liz has talent but expends her efforts strangely. Her work is not to my taste, and like all art it shows us just as much about the artist as it does about the subject of the painting. Other artists were even worse, different for the sake of being different. There was some really bad stuff that the critics probably drool over, and some dotty aboriginal crap as well. Everyone's a critic, eh?

Went to meteorological station near the airport for their advertised ninety minute free tour. Met Peter there as arranged, but also ran into Ken and Rai from the caravan park again. Karen had to tell Peter about his grandfather passing away - not too sure how he felt. Both he and Karen seem to be in a kind of silent denial about it.

Weather balloon going up at the Met Station

Back to caravan park for another lazy afternoon of reading and people watching. Saw two guys spend twenty minutes loading their boat onto a trailer, swamping it completely and vertically jack-knifing everything before eventual success. Saw another guy catch a ray similar to the one we saw jump out of the water and wandered down onto the beach for a squiz. Phoned home at 6pm to get details of Ernie from a calm Barbara, who seems to be taking it like Peter and Karen.

We had a couple of toasts to Ernie at our table by the beach, celebrating his life and remembering some of the classic comments he used to make. "I wonder what the poor people are doing," we asked ourselves in typical Ernie-speak. When I excused myself to go to the toilet I said "Gotta go and pump the ship!" Ernie's enunciation was often less than perfect due to his false teeth. Ever since she was a kid, Karen had thought that Ernie had always been going to pump the shit! She had never understood how he could have gotten away with language like that. It was only during the last few years that the true phrase was made clear to her.

Got accosted by a German motor-mouth who regaled us with tales of cycling in Europe forty years ago and had trouble getting away from him. Evening was a bit windy so we moved the Trangia stove into the shelter of the public toilets in the park next door - really romantic and very sanitary - and managed to cook a wonderful Mussaman rice curry. Wind from south and fairly strong. Lots of flapping noises from neighbouring tents during the night drowned out all the usual noises of sprinklers and the refrigeration unit attached to the beachfront kiosk about fifty metres away.

Day 6:
Karen's mat goes down on her every night, but for some reason she wants it to stop, so she checked the mat for leaks in the laundry and found a neat hole, possibly ant chewed, in one of the corners. I tried gluing it with puncture glue, but did not apply a patch.

Went to local drop-in centre garage sale thence to markets at the courthouse. Saw Peter and Mihkala with Paul, selling his honey and doing really well. Bought a book on Jim Morrison for sixty cents and had muffins and do-nuts. Also had an interesting talk to a guy who runs the astronomy tours, hoping my pictures of Hale-Bopp turned out as good as his. (They didn't).

Back to caravan park for lunch to find that the air mattress had dried and sucked in all the glue. Applied more, and glued a small patch of corner material to the hole, then more glue. A family of six had set up three tents, one within a metre of our heads. Unthinking, unknowing, uncaring bastards! Checked out other sites with a view to moving prior to our bird tour pick-up.

At 2pm George Swann picked us up for the three hour bird tour of mangroves and shore. Had to laugh at his name - did it influence his choice of career? There is also a Jan Sparrow in charge of the Eyre Bird Observatory. A non-birder named Stella was also on the tour and basically out of her depth, but she said she had an afternoon to kill and wanted to see what it was like. Karen and I learned how to make bird attracting noises - a valuable lesson. There were not too many birds in the mangroves, so we drove out to near the Broome Bird Observatory to look for waders.

The mudflats of Broome are a birdwatcher's paradise. Thousands of migratory birds gather there each year in large numbers, and occasional blow-ins from South East Asia are sometimes seen. For us, the neap tide, weekend fishermen and time of year (many species do not stay in Australia over Winter) made viewing difficult, but it was still bloody good.

Learned the approach technique for waders, which involves approaching them until they get a bit nervous, then stopping and observing until they settle down, the approaching again and we were shown how they look when they are getting flighty. We also learned the value of a solid tripod and a good twenty power telescope. The best way to tell waders apart is to familiarise ourselves with constant exposure to the common ones so that rare birds stand out like dogs balls. George also explained the benefits of looking at every individual bird in the flock to pick out the different ones. We saw five new birds, the Terek Sandpiper, Lesser Crested Tern, Red Knot, Grey Tailed Tattler and the Asian Dowitcher. It was an excellent bird day - but a bit like spotting birds in a zoo - more satisfying finding them ourselves than having someone point them out.

Back to caravan park then out immediately to pick up dinner of chips and coke on our way to a trivia night at the local Police Citizen's Youth Club. Karen and I joined a table of three, Phil, Cathy and Sandra after being joined by Bart from Cromer, the suburb next to the one Karen grew up in. Our team came fifth out of twelve with seventy four out of one hundred. Not a bad night but spent too much money - it was a fundraiser. Walked back to caravan park at 10:30pm.

Day 7:
Wind still strong in the morning and encroaching family still obnoxious. We learned that for a bit of extra money, campers can have "prime" sites, so we checked out all the vacant sites and decided on C3, halfway up a small hill about a hundred metres away from the public area. Rai and Ken invited us into the caravan for a long morning tea spent talking about heart problems and things we had found during our respective travels.

When we went to pay for the new site, the caravan park manager botched up the multiplication of tariff times days and arrived at a figure less than what we had paid at the public site. Neither Karen nor myself had the heart to point out his mistake to him. At 11:30am we returned to the tent to shift sites and heard a female voice ask "Got a can of Coke?" A friend of ours named Sue was standing on the other side of the caravan park fence. I had known Sue when she had been the girlfriend of a guy in my hockey team, and she had later worked with Karen at Coca-Cola. How she came to find us is another amazing coincidence...

Paul, the guy that Peter and Mihkala were staying with, runs walking tours around various parts of Broome. He had invited Peter and Mihkala along for free, and Sue had been one of the other people on the tour, but they did not know each other from a bar of soap. On the mini bus out to the start of the walk, Paul had made a disparaging remark about Coca-Cola and Sue had retorted "What's wrong with Coke?!" Peter and Mihkala were sitting in front of Sue and something made Peter turn around and ask if Sue worked for Coca-Cola. She said yes, and Peter asked if she knew Karen Davis. She said yes again, and Peter told her that Karen and I were here in Broome and gave her directions to the caravan park.

We talked to Sue while we moved our tent to the new site, then all of us walked to the local shops for lunch. A bit later we went to the Mangrove Hotel where Sue was staying. It was perched on a hill looking out over Roebuck Bay, and was named for the mangroves below. The walk we had done a few days ago started here, so we repeated the walk with Sue. Afterwards, Sue us invited us back to the resort's bar and shouted us a drink, which we sipped at a table on a balcony overlooking the bay. We learned that Sue had just flown into Broome and would soon be bussing to Cable Beach for a camel ride before embarking on an organised two week Kimberley safari.

It was good to catch up with an old friend and to hear news from the other side of Australia. Karen and I walked back to the caravan park for reading and dinner at our new table on the hill just above our "prime" site.

Day 8:
Wind was strong all day with slight lulls in later arvo. Days are coolish in shade, warm in sun, and hot out of the wind. Rode out to Cable Beach to check out two art galleries. Monsoon gallery was partly good, partly bad and mostly arty. Tarangau Art Village (and caravan park) had paintings by an ex-navy guy with the very British name of Blenkinsop. It consisted mostly of ships, in well painted but unimaginative scenes and light. We wasted half an hour riding down towards the port area only to find a third gallery had closed.

Back to caravan park for lunch, reading, leg shaving (Karen, not me), and a check of the beach south of the caravan park to see if it was good for a sunset shot. It wasn't. Karen and I had been invited to dinner, so we rocked around to Ken and Rai's van at 6pm for roast lamb and vegies and apple crumble. Yum. We had lollies for after dinner snacks during a good conversation which went on until 10:30pm.

Day 9:
Up late after late night to another windy day. Spent the first part of the morning reading and doing crosswords in a sheltered spot in the park next door. After morning tea we went to the Seaview shopping centre to really get out of the wind and do a Times crossword before lunch. In the arvo we walked into town to post our t-shirts, info and some feathers we had collected back to Sydney. Karen bought some new cycle nicks. Back at caravan park we called a property named Barn Hill to enquire about accommodation. It was about a hundred kilometres down the highway - a good day's ride - and we had been told it was a good but relatively unknown place to stay. Also rang the Broome Bird Observatory to tell them politely to stuff their job offer. Had an evening of reading, dinner and a bit of wine. Well, a lot of wine, actually.

Day 10:
Still windy so went to Seaview shops to write postcards. Then to museum for an interesting history of Broome - especially submarine cable which linked us to the world and after which Cable Beach had been named. Fascinated by story of Japanese soldiers landing on Australian soil during World War Two, between Broome and Derby, to reconnoitre military sites and return home with intelligence. Lots of stuff on pearls and pearl diving too.

Back to caravan park for lunch. Wind eased in the arvo so we went for a walk out onto the tidal flats. Saw lots of Spanish dancers. We were supposed to have dinner with Peter and Mihkala but they were not home. After walking there and finding this out, we had fast food and icecream for dinner from a greasy spoon on the way back home.

Day 11:
Peter rolled up to take us to the Broome Bird Observatory at 7:30am as arranged. He and Mihkala had been working late yesterday with Paul, collecting honey from hives scattered in various bush locations around Broome. Mihkala had stayed home to make jam. Wind eased to a pretty good day for bird watching, luckily.

Drove out to the shortcut road to the coast, checking each side track for flocks of waders. Tried approaching one sizeable flock but they bolted - pretty flighty today. Near the Broome Bird Observatory we spotted a huge flock on a sandy point up the beach. Followed red necked stints and red capped plovers up the beach towards flock. More birds flew in as we approached. Lots of eastern curlews. Strangely, these had not been present on our bird tour a few days ago. We got fairly close, but a twenty power or thirty power telescope would have been a distinct advantage over our pissy little seven power binoculars. Did see a new bird, however, the black-tailed godwit.

Also went to Broome Bird Observatory for a short walk in the trees and short video. Walked down to beach but the tide had gone out dramatically - mud to the horizon and scarcely a bird to be seen. There were some waders out there but they were sparse and distant - obvious why high tide is the best time to go looking for them. We found a famous rock featured on Broome postcards and photographed same.

The rock formation

At 4pm we drove to the mangroves for a couple more new birds, the mangrove fantail and the broad-billed flycatcher. On the way in we had a wonderful, close and long view of the rare grey falcon, our second sighting of this species. Then it was back to the caravan park for shopping and dinner cooked on the Apex Park free gas barbecue. We had dinner at our table, and the evening was windless for the first time in a week!

Day 12:
Veged in the morning, with diary writing, cryptic and bird book updating. Lunch at caravan park and more relaxing in the arvo. Saw Peter and Mihkala and Mac on sand flats at 3:30pm and walked out there ourselves. Excellent walk, with Spanish dancers, brittle stars, fish jumping, turtles, and the half submerged wrecks of sea planes bombed by the Japanese during the Second World War. The latter only appear during very low tides. Must have been about one and a half kilometres back to the beach.

Sea Plane wreckage with Hovercraft in background

Spoke to a semi-local on way back to beach about the best spot to view the Staircase to the Moon, a phenomenon which occurs whenever a full moon rises over the mud flats. Moon would be full in a couple of days, also ideal for finding those darned elusive dinosaur footprints at Gantheaume Point.

Now that the wind has gone we have mozzies! Bugger.

Day 13:
June 21st - winter solstice. Porridge brekkie (as usual) and crossword with breakfast. Caught 8:44am public bus to Cable Beach and checked out the resort. It proved to be the usual lovely and totally non-natural manufactured environment. Saw great bird paintings on the walls by H. Price-James. Might look up his work when we settle down.

Had a great body surf - even Karen catching waves and not afraid. She had been badly dumped by a wave in her youth and her shoulder had popped out. Ever since, she has occasionally had trouble with it, when climbing, playing squash or tennis, even stretching. So if Karen catches waves, conditions must be perfect. Great to be able to swim at mid-winter! One Japanese guy looked pissed off with us because he couldn't even catch waves on a boogie board!

We watched unsuspecting tourist sunbathers get swamped by the rapidly rising tide, then walked down Cable Beach towards Gantheaume Point. Stopped in at the Broome Races where entry was free for the day, caught the first race over a pie and chips, the wandered off to look for and actually find Anastasia's pool at the point. We had walked right past it when looking for the dinosaur prints almost two weeks ago - not too impressive for supposedly experienced observers like us.

Caught bus back to town and caravan park for a cuppa and some bikkies and reading. I walked out to the wrecks at low tide in the late arvo - seventeen hundred and twenty paces back to beach! I prepared camera and film for Staircase to the Moon at 6:01pm, not expecting much. When it happened though, it was pretty awesome, but difficult to photograph. When the moon is full, the tide is out when it appears over the horizon, causing the image of the moon to reflect off the mud in one long shaft of light. Ripples and channels in the mud break this shaft into what can imaginatively be thought of as steps. Hence the name - Staircase to the Moon.

Staircase to the Moon

We cooked a chicken dinner on Apex Park barbecue and ate it at our new table near the tent. We retired very contentedly. Nothing huge had happened, but it had been a really excellent day.

Day 14:
Walked down to the port, birdwatching and checking out the hovercraft which made daily tourist excursions across the water or mud of Roebuck Bay. Enjoyed a Coke and ice-cream at the kiosk near the wharf, with Karen spotting a new bird way out to sea. A storm petrel - very distinctive markings that can be recognised from a goodly distance.

Relaxed all arvo after bussing back to caravan park. Went to the Staircase to the Moon markets at the Apex park. Hundreds of people and a good time had by all, then everybody watches the moon rise. Markets die immediately afterwards when all the tourists leave.

Day 15:
We have continued to have trouble with the zips on our tent, and today Karen rang Macpac, the manufacture, in New Zealand to complain. She rang reverse charges and the call was accepted by a receptionist who passed it on to the office manager. While he was listening to the complaint and advising Karen what to do, he mentioned that the call was probably costing Karen a lot of money, but she told him it was quite okay - she can be a sneaky bastard sometimes. Macpac will send new zipper pieces to the post office at Port Hedland for us to pick up - also free of charge! Good customer relations.

Arranged water drops with Peter and Mihkala who plan to leave day after tomorrow. We plan to leave tomorrow. Photographed the amazing high tide almost covering the mangroves below our tent site. Had lunch with Peter and Mihkala at the caravan park. Cooked dinner at the Apex park next door and spoke to some local aborigines in the dark while we cooked. We could hear them, but could not see them. Ate dinner back at our table, watching our last Staircase to the Moon. Afterwards, Karen and I spoke with Virginia and Mark from Woodville over a cuppa in their tent until late, mostly talking about places and conditions further south.

Day 16:
Up at 6am to ride the awful road to Gantheaume Point. Arrived right on low tide at 6:55am. Using a postcard of the dinosaur prints we had bought earlier as a guide to their location, we succeeded in finding exactly the same set of prints. They were right on the waterline and about to be submerged so I quickly snapped a photograph. Some other intrepid explorers had found some more prints higher up the rocks in the shade. I waited for the sun to rise high enough to illuminate them, watching a thrilling race between the moving shade line and the rising tide. Managed to get a good shot of them before tide moved in.

Dinosaur footprints

Another horrible ride back to the caravan park to pack up, shop and hit the road at 2:45pm, bound for the Roebuck Roadhouse only thirty eight kilometres up the highway. Karen and I battled along, hating the slight uphill and easterly wind that had pushed us into town over two weeks earlier.

Two thirds of the way to the roadhouse a couple of girls in an old car stopped and flagged us down with a message from Peter. He and Mihkala had changed their plans and would not be leaving Broome for another week. Not only would they be unable to drop our water for us, but they had also been given all of our wine bladders and bottles! We rang them when we arrived at the roadhouse shortly before five o'clock.

The Kombi needed a wheel alignment, and Peter had also been offered paid work for a couple of days as well. He said he would drive out tonight to return our containers, but rang back a little while later to say that he and Mihkala would cycle out in the morning with them. It had taken Karen and I two hours, but Peter said they would arrive by 7:30am. We will see.

Karen asked around to see if any other people in the roadhouse camping ground were headed south, and found a kiwi who was leaving for Port Hedland at 7am who agreed to do a water drop for us. We pulled the bladders out of our water bags to be used for the drop. Peter and Mihkala will not arrive with our containers until after he has gone. We left the filled bladders with the guy, along with a set of written instructions which detailed drops if the distance markers are measured to Port Hedland on one side, and details if measured to Sandfire Flat on the other.

After a noisy night with the occasional roadtrain parking outside our tent, Karen and I rose at 6am to pack up and go through the instructions again with the guy from New Zealand and his wife. We wanted him to drop the water at the "PH 410" kilometre marker. When they had gone, Peter and Mihkala and Mac rolled up, right on time. They had cycled out of Broome in the dark! We replaced our water bag bladders, stored the extras and tied the bottles onto various parts of Elle and Mel. We spoke to Peter and Mihkala for half an hour about their car problems and an expedition they had been on in search of more dinosaur footprints around Roebuck Bay and further up the coast.

Eventually we had to thank them and bid them goodbye. Barn Hill was a long way down the road, and Karen and I had only ridden about three hundred kilometres in the past thirty seven days. We needed all the time on the road we could get. Peter, Mihkala and Mac rode off towards Broome as Karen and I headed a hundred metres down the highway and turned right. Port Hedland was five hundred and seventy nine kilometres distant, with no towns and only two roadhouses along the way.

There is almost nothing on this section, except the massive expanse of the Great Sandy Desert.

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