Point Samson

With views across the Indian Ocean, purple-hued Honeymoon Bay and access to tourist sites, Point Samson is a great holiday spot or base in the Northwest of Western Australia.

It’s a popular holiday spot for locals and workers at the various mining centres in the Pilbara and, while fishing is the main enterprise of the area, many vantage points show the huge ships lining up to dock at Dampier and collect iron ore.

If you wanted some sustenance or to wet your whistle, then you can’t do better than the Point Samson Tavern, with its views over the ocean, the jetty and the lighthouse. I counted 14 tankers while we were sitting here and the docks can accommodate 8 at a time, I think.

Not only is this a good spot at which to break up a long stretch or wile away the hours, you can base yourself here and visit Millstream/Chichester National Park, Karratha or Dampier, and the sunrises and sunsets are spectacular.

Sunrise
Sunset

The original 600m jetty was built in 1903 and replaced a tidal port at nearby Cossack. The new jetty serviced Roebourne and exported wool and cattle from surrounding pastoral stations, as well as copper from Whim Creek. Until 1971 many houses in Point Samson relied on ships bringing fresh water that was carried by rail carts and later pumped ashore. I’m astonished that people lived in this remote spot with little access to mains water until the 70s.

In 1925 a tropical cyclone damaged huge portions of the jetty, but a new one wasn’t constructed until 1936 due to the Great Depression. As air travel increased, passenger services were the first to go and in 1976 it was closed to shipping. Yet another cyclone, Orson this time, partially destroyed the jetty for the second time in 1989 and due to safety concerns it was demolished in 1991.

The current 70m structure, with its 40 sqm viewing platform and shelter was constructed in 2018 as a joint project of Point Samson Community Association, Rio Tinto and the City of Karratha. The design reflects its history and it provides a suitable vantage point for whale watching in the season. Just two weeks before we got there, visitors reported seeing several whales playing in the bay as they headed south.

We stayed at The Cove Holiday Village, right on the coast, and the sites were large, the amenities clean and very comfortable and there is a pool, family/recreation rooms and camp kitchens and BBQs spaced well. The owners were very helpful with advice and assistance. Honeymoon Cove, within 100m, is small and lovely, with unusual metasedimentary rocks.

Delight your senses at Point Samson.

Millstream/ Chichester National Park

When I enquired at the Karijini Visitor Centre about Millstream, one of the rangers felt that the NP was one of the most underrated places in Australia and she wished more people would go there. Having assured us that there was little corrugation and most of the roads were sealed, now, we decided to go, but had to camp at Point Samson, to avoid taking the back road which was the dirt track we had been travelling on in Karijini and which we knew our caravan wouldn’t survive.

To travel the road to the National Park, I discovered we needed a pass from Rio Tinto. At that late hour, I went online and actually learnt some stuff but most of the road we would travel is now sealed, so a lot of it was unnecessary. I met people who didn’t bother with the pass, but it is free and if there’s a chance of being turned back, why not? The journey to the NP was picturesque, with many changes of scenery and foliage. The wildflowers were a colourful patchwork carpet over much of the land and we believe it’s due to the huge rainfall this year.

The road out was bitumen, with short dirt paths to some of the attractions and from PointSamson it took 2 hours each way. We attempted to do the wetlands walk once we arrived, but it was closed due to heavy rain and damage recently. Instead, we looked around the 1919 household and its very old desks for wireless, wood oven, wireless rocking chair and other artefacts. It’s a beautiful building, well made and maintained.

A few campsites surround the old homestead, nestled in the bush, and there were several vans and tents, which led us to think about staying here, another time. We drove to the lookout and marveled at the breadth of the River Fortescue and how healthy it is.

There’s a path along the cliff top, part of a longer walk to the homestead and back, that takes you along the river and to different landscapes. A bird of prey flew over us and came down pretty low at one point, possibly keeping us from their mate.

From here it was a short drive to Deep Reach, where the original inhabitants believe the Rainbow Serpent, creator of all life, lives. The carpark, where we met a goanna that needed the sun more than an escape from us, led to a short, paved path to the river and shade and tables.

We had lunch, then went and sat on the steps that lead to the water, cooling our feet and enjoying the fish and damselflies. It was enough for me, as I thought the deep river, whose reeds reached up out of the water, was a bit scary. I thought I could see a current and was not sure how strong it would be. This was a beautiful spot and we could see how it might be visited frequently if you camped in the park, also doing some of the walks. However, with some walks closed due to the wild weather earlier in the year, we weren’t sold on this park as a destination, yet.

We both thought we’d save our swim for the magical Python Pool, on our return journey, and the initial turnoff was dirt, as we were told, but shockingly corrugated. We attempted it for about 5 km and then could see no end to it so, wanting the unpleasantness of shaking and rattling to end, we turned around and went back. Later, we met a couple who took a different road (that we thought was off-limits to non-Tinto people) and entered Python Pool from the North, saying the road was really easy and the Pool was amazing.

Another location to put on the ‘next time’ list.

One of the sights on this road is the iron ore train, with carriages that go as far as you can see in each direction. You can’t go on until it’s finished, so why not get out and take photos?

Check road conditions before you head off. Rio Tinto provide daily updates if you do the online training.

Travel safe, with your permit, hat, water and sunscreen.

Broome or Barn Hill?

I think most people around the world have heard of Broome, the pearl region of north-western Australia that guarantees a stunning sunset. But as we headed here, so many travelers told us about Barn Hill, that we changed our plans. Our memories of Broome, that it was almost dead in late October but had some fabulous beaches, had been tarnished by the reports this year, of overcrowding and price rises due to Covid-19. As it was the beach we most sought, we decided on a shopping stop in Broome and then to travel the 110km to Barn Hill Station,  a cattle station that offered a campsite on a cliff over the beach.

Broome was actually lively, with varied shops open and people moving about purposefully. We decided to do our grocery shopping first and then sit for a coffee, where we could get internet and search a few of the locations we were hoping to visit in the future, but hadn’t quite decided on, or booked for that matter.

I rang our sons to let them know where we were (why were they not the least bit concerned?) and when Alan returned from his obligatory secondhand book hunt, we went  to Barn Hill, the last stretch of which involved a 10km dirt road that was a little corrugated but softened by the red dirt.

It is a great campsite, a little ramshackle and with basic amenities, but we had power and water for half the price of Broome, and a short walk down to the beach, with its red cliffs and layered rock formations.

We were expecting the water to be warm, but it was cool and had a strong pull into the ocean. Earlier, the neighbours said that there had been a small shark sighted that morning and everyone had to get out of the water. It made me a bit nervous, and I kept looking around for a fin, while resisting the undertow. I saw a brown jellyfish, the size of a large bowl and that had me exit for the day. A late afternoon walk brought us to some great rock formations, some scuttling crabs that hurriedly dug holes (and some are way too big to think about), and a beautiful sunset.

On our return, we saw people sitting in readiness for a show of some kind. Apparently, the entertainment was a no-show, so they contacted two guys who played the previous night, and they stopped their fishing and put on a show. It was quite good, really, with mostly 70s soft rock/LA sound stuff. Lucky for us, we got a good seat.

The next morning I went for a walk to the beach and thought that this coastline was a lot like Aldinga, in South Australia, with the sandstone cliffs. In fact, I’m beginning to think most of Australia’s coastline e is sandstone. But this place has had a lot of erosion, creating pillars of rock and sand, along with familiar rock pools and exposed reef.

We had our morning café then strolled to the market, where clientele were selling their wares in stalls erected in the community gathering area. There are always pens for goats and horses and children who aren’t kept busy with this or the ocean are on the few items of play equipment.

This is a very relaxing campsite, with entertainment, a bar/café that can provide occasional internet and all the environmental features you’d get in Broome. The facilities are basic but very clean and the hot water in the shower is reliable. There are washing machines that work and the sites are shaded and large. There is the choice of powered or unpowered, but the unpowered seemed to have little shade.

Have a little adventure and come to Barn Hill, with your hat, sunscreen and fishing rod.

Purnululu and the Bungle Bungles

About 4 hours from Kununurra, just over the NT/WA border,  is Purnululu National Park, in which sits the famous Bungle Bungle Range, or Bungle Bungles. The highway through the Kimberley Region is very good and picturesque, so the time passes easily. We stopped at Turkey Creek Roadhouse for a stretch and that had food and accommodation for those needing it.

The 1km road into Bungle Bungle Caravan Park was pretty corrugated and we set up on the large, unshaded block before quickly asking about the condition of the road into the National Park. We were pretty inexperienced 4×4 drivers and wanted to decide if we should be doing the $380pp tour instead. Encouragement and approval of our vehicle was not lacking and we made nervous plans for the following day, while the desert sunset brought an unexpected chill.

What an adventure! If you’re an avid off-roader you’d have given it an 8, I think, as those who’d just come off the Gibb River Road said it compared to that journey’s detour tracks. What are we talking about? 1.5 hours (53km) of heavily corrugated road on entry and exit, for which we lowered the psi to 25, and five river crossings not requiring a snorkel, but we weren’t stopping. Other corrugated sections of varying degree, making it a rattling good trip.

Don’t be deceived, the water came up to the top of the bonnet: straight down and straight back up again.

We followed the tour plan and, after calling in at the visitor centre to record our names and our pass, went south first, to Piccaninny Creek carpark to see the Domes and Cathedral Gorge. The former is what has made the Bungles famous in the late 1980s, when a film crew flew over it and  ‘discovered’ the beehive-shaped sandstone hills. Capturing the expanse of the range is very difficult with a standard lens, as you can see in the header photo.

The average height of the domes is 250m and the distinctive orange and black towers are fragile. As the sign on the walk says, “… each encased in a thin, protective skin of orange bands of iron oxide and grey to black bands of cyanobacteria. A skin is deposited on the surface by water seeping through the sandstone. If the banded skin is damaged the sandstone is rapidly eroded away.” Another sign informs us that the foundations were laid down 360 million years ago and flood waters have brought deposits and formed deep gorges.

From the carpark, both walks are very easy, on flat paths, well-signed. You’ll be unprotected from the sun in many places, so remember hat, sunscreen and water. After you reach the pool in the Domes, the path to Cathedral Rock, back and to the left, is along some sections of dry river bed, so use good walking footwear for sandy and uneven surfaces.

There are ladders to help negotiate difficult terrain.

The sun glows off the walls like molten gold.

Cathedral Gorge is unexpectedly stunning, but you have to get in and under the Ridge to fully appreciate it. Many people just sit for a time, absorbing the extraordinary peace and beauty. You first encounter the amphitheatre and the still pool in the centre.

Venture in
And look back out
Not so bracken that the fish had all left

We ate our lunch in the shade, here, then headed for the northern end of the National Park and Echidna Chasm.

From the carpark, you follow the dry creek bed, over mostly rocky terrain, through palms bordered by the orange sandstone cliffs, showing signs of erosion.

The river bed and walls are made up of conglomerate, formed by pebbles and boulders that have been embedded over millions of years.

It isn’t too long before the path narrows and you read about large, falling boulders, causing a little increase in your pace.

The light and the decreasing width of the path is beautiful and highlights this impressive weakness in the Bungle Bungle Ranges.

When you get to the end, it’s quite obvious there is no going forward, so back you go, still able to admire the glowing cliffs.

Near the start of the riverbed is a sign directing you to the Northern Escarpment Walk which is a very short (5min) trip to look over the landscape. In the distance are ranges that are billions of years old and information boards explain the changes in the environment and the practices of the Aboriginal people of the area. There is a move back to involving the original inhabitants in the preservation of the area, as their knowledge of watercourses, in particular, is crucial to the health of the region.

It isn’t a trip for the feint hearted and is one to put on your bucket list, but only if you can be rattled around a bit. You need to time it, as the park is closed between November and April, roughly, but we were here in October one year and the high temperatures meant it was closed. So, do a little research.

Travel safe. Take your hat, water and sunscreen, and maybe a spare tyre.

Darwin Festival 2021 – Hot August Nights

We had no idea that we’d be in the capital of the Northern Territory during their Festival and it was a wonderful surprise.

Parking was easy in Port Darwin and we walked past the impressive Parliament House, following the crowds and the lights to one of the entrances.

The art displays, entitled Wish Upon A Jellyfish, by Aly deGroot, were illuminated and free,

along with general entry which also gave you live entertainment in a huge Amphitheatre.

Having not scoured the program to see what we might be interested in, we just took a turn about the park, admiring the sculptures and the music and marveling at the number of people at long trestles, eating from the variety of takeaway on offer.

From here we took the road to the Waterfront precinct and from the skywalk, admired the illuminations of the Ferris Wheel.

There were many venues and exhibitions.

If you are going to be in Darwin in August, do some research beforehand and book in for your taste of culture, art and entertainment. We certainly will, next time.

Fogg Dam – Kakadu National Park

When you visit Kakadu NP in the Northern Territory, there is a lot of choice and many kilometres. We were staying in Darwin, so decided to visit one of the ‘outer’ locations, known for its birdlife.

This year-round wetland is an hour’s drive from Darwin, on sealed roads. There are a couple of parking areas and maps from there to help you decide which walk(s) you’ll take. We started with the Woodlands to Waterlilies Walk, as it was the shortest and we’d thought to measure our pace against the recommended time.

The path begins as a firm dirt track through paperbark trees,

to swamp

and finally on to the boardwalk and out to the 3 viewing platforms. From these you cast your eyes over lilies, through fine, closely woven brush, or up in the air as flocks fly past.

We met a couple of avid birdwatchers, one of whom let me use their binoculars to look at an azure kingfisher, and then pointed out the other ‘good’ finds. We also saw some intriguing insects.

We’d set out pretty early in the morning and was only about 32C but we mistakenly thought that the woodland walk would be covered and cool and hadn’t applied sunscreen. On the open boardwalk we were feeling it and almost as soon as we entered the woodland we were beset by mosquitoes, so be warned.

Making good time, we set off on the Monsoon Forest Walk, which was surprisingly very different. The tropical north has 15 000 small patches of monsoon forest and some of the plants grown there are rare. This is a saltwater crocodile area, so warnings about staying on the path are frequent.

Another firm, but undulating path, decorated by butterflies

and more golden orb spiders. They like making their webs across the path.

The boardwalk begins quite early and the thin, green palms reach straight up beside, above and ahead of you.

Shorter, stunted palms are close to the muddy swamp surface and roots and bark twist in their competition for light. The forest is alive with sounds and smells.

The wetlands increase and I peer through the trees to grasslands further afield, seeing all manner of beak, head, body shape and behaviour. It is a wonderland that at one moment bids me stop and the next urges me on.

Magical reflections are formed in the swamp.

Corellas, black-necked storks, ducks, swans, egrets, cormorants and masked lapwings, along with a whole lot more that were too far or too fast for me to identify. Just stunning and peaceful all in one.

Take a hat, water, camera, binoculars, sunscreen and insect repellant (might as well take a packed lunch). And it’s free!

Walks and Icons #6 – Litchfield National Park

Still in the Northern Territory, Litchfield NP is often overshadowed by Kakadu NP and its world heritage. We find that the former is more accessible, being closer to the highway and having less distance between each ‘hot’ spot.

From northernterritory.com/drive , a free resource

It’s common for people to do a loop, beginning about an hour and a half from Darwin, via Bachelor, but to see all the tourist spots in one day would be a huge feat, even if you were lucky enough to get carparks at each. However, you would also miss out on some of the walks afforded.

Bachelor, itself, is a very small town and may be useful for its supermarket or public toilets before heading on to the park entrance.

Florence Falls, about 30km from Bachelor, is very popular and it’s no wonder. However, on your way you’ll pass the magnetic termite mounds, which have a convenient parking area to observe the tall mounds and read about their formation.

From the Florence Falls carpark there’s a quick, easy and picturesque walk to the falls, where you get a birdseye view of the cascades that lead to the plunge pool,

or you can head upstream to an inlet that you can make your private space for the day and many of these have tables, benches and barbecue pits.

The plunge pool at the base of the falls is in a relatively small clearing  and there’s a metal platform and stairs to assist entry into the cool waters. Alternatively,  you could carefully step over rocks and moss until you find your way in. It’s worth it, as you can get under the power of the falls, or swim into the caves that border the enclosure. It’s a beautiful,  peaceful space.

We took the loop path that trailed through monsoon rainforest, crossing numerous creeks until it brought us to the walk to Buley Rockhole. 

Information boards about local flora and fauna had us on the lookout and we weren’t disappointed.

This 1m long specimen was across the river

On our way, we saw a series of small falls and thought that was Buley Rockhole, so explored there for about an hour.

It wasn’t until we got to Buley later that we realised we should have travelled on. No regrets, as it was ridiculously busy and we’d have struggled to find a space to cool down, at any of the levels of the cascading feature.

The Lost City could be next on the loop and it is accessed via a 10km dirt road that is definitely 4WD only, as it is sandy, rocky and has deep track furrows. Absolutely worth it, though, as these weathered sandstone towers and structures are quite impressive.

Tolmer Falls is a view-only watercourse, as there is no track down the steep, sandstone gorge walls. The longest drop of Litchfield’s falls can be viewed from an easily-accessed platform. However, I’m not sure if you can make it out but there are 3 people at the top of the falls, in that cave-like spot, one in a red top, so I think they knew something I didn’t. You can get a partial view down the long gorge from here.

Wangi Falls, further along our loop, is a large swimming area, with camping, kiosk, hiking, picnicking and other facilities, making it an ideal destination any time. It is a favourite of ours, as it has a wide access point, from which the swim to any of the three Falls isn’t too daunting. There is also a platform from which to take in the view.

Next on the loop is Cascades, which involves a demanding but rewarding 1-2 hour return hike to the main feature. You can choose a long, flat path through grasslands and then return via the more varied path, involving some scrambling, climbing and slippery surfaces. Either requires some vigilance with snakes, but if you stamp enough,  you should be right. The path along the river is very beautiful and people with children were stopping along the way to swim and picnic, as it was a more realistic option. The final destination is small, but picturesque, with the gently cascading Falls a selfy fave.

There are some other points of interest that we didn’t visit, such as Walker Creek, due to time, and others, like Surprise Creek Falls, because we had heard it was a grueling 4WD journey but provided a personal set of cascading falls beside which you could camp.

Another place we visited but which is less-known, is the Zebra Stone Gallery, 14km from Bachelor. This is a geological wonderland, where the enigma of zebra stone, estimated at being about 1.2 billion years old, is explained and displayed, with plenty of items for sale including stunning jewellery. If that’s not all, there’s also a cafe where one of the tables is a huge piece of zebra stone, and a campsite.

Assuming you decided to visit Berry Springs National Park, on your way home, an hour from Darwin,  it would only take you about 15 mins off the highway.

Berry Springs is the source of water for Berry Creek and in WWII a weir was constructed to provide a swimming hole for the 100 000 service men and women who were stationed there. This has resulted in the three ‘levels’ of pools at which Darwinians swim, to relieve the tropic heat. The waters are clear and you can see the little fish before they attack your dead skin or, occasionally, lesions. A noodle is a must, if you want to have very little work to do in keeping afloat or travelling downstream. The pools are huge, unlike other swimming spots, but if you don’t get a park, as the sign says, it’s full. Monsoon walks are possible and a visit to the local wildlife park, but as I did neither… have a splash at each level. There are platforms and ladders to help you enter the water.

What are you waiting for?

Grab your hat, water and sunscreen and make plans.

Walks and icons #5 – Leliyn

Once called Edith Falls, but known to the Jawoyne people as Leliyn, this is one walk I’d encourage everyone to do.

Situated about 1 hour from Katherine, it is part of Nitmiluk National Park. You can get a campsite if you’re very, very lucky, by asking at the kiosk, first thing.

There is a relatively short and easy walk from the start of the carpark, by which you can return or a longer return, 2.6km, affording views of the falls and the gorge, giving a ‘bigger’ view of the whole.

The top falls provide a refreshing swimming opportunity that is usually less crowded, as many don’t take the walk. You can sit under that short (4m?) fall, or swim nearby, and there are several access points, not all being slimy!

The different return trip, while providing views, can be slippery in parts, with dusty rocks or rubble.

Once you’re at the base, you cross the bridge that looks out onto the major gorge, with the 12m falls in the distance.

A few people had noodles to assist them in the swim there, but it’s less than a km, with little current.

Be aware of water pythons, as my husband had one swim against his legs as he was approaching the ladder to get out. I don’t think they have us on the menu, and it was pretty small, but it can be a trifle unexpected.

Enjoy a relaxing stretch in the sun or shade while you have lunch, buy something from the kiosk, or walk back to the carpark, reading the information boards as you go.

But do go.

Hat, sunscreen and plenty of water.

Walks and Icons #4 – BITTER, BERRY, BEST SPRINGS

There are several famous thermal springs in the region, in fact in the Northern Territory. Approximately 15km off the main highway, Mataranka has a reputation and well-designed pool for up to about 30 people, or 50 at a squeeze. The house from an author has also been recreated on the grounds and a campsite is available, as well as a restaurant and some entertainment.

But just off the highway, with room for perhaps 100, is Bitter Springs, where you all get in the water by platform or riverbank, and most float down the stream in their swim noodles. Out you get at the other end and walk back up the path to do it all again. There are rocks close to the surface, or tree roots and trunks that enable you to get a hold if you need to rest on your journey. Both the spring mentioned are in Elsie National Park.

In half an hour you would be in Katherine and the hot springs run through the town. So accessible. Try to get there at the quiet times – early in the morning, to feel the bubbles frothing up from underneath somewhere, and the current taking you downstream, the salts soaking into your skin and a faint cloud of steam settling over the water.

Now let me take you some many 130km up the Stuart Highway, into Litchfield National Park, and Berry Springs. Now that is the monster spring! The sign at the start of the carpark says if the carpark is full then the springs are full. We went on a day when there were maybe another 10 parks and 5 bus spaces. There were plenty of people but plenty of room to swim and I think 3 levels of pools from which to choose, or start at the top and float or swim your way down. The water was cool and refreshing, and on a hot day with a gentle breeze, when you got out of the water it was very pleasant. Not that floating in it wasn’t great. Turquoise pool, draped at the edges with palms and trees, birds chirping and chattering or hooting at you until, on every brave or thirsty hombre dives into the pool, grabs a drink and dashes out again. I truly think I found paradise.

Take a hat, sunscreen and water. A noodle is definitely the fashion. Keep an eye on your gear and an eye out for hanging spiders.