Mt Augustus & Kennedy Range NP

Newman as a town was interesting in that it is a mining town, a very modern & neat looking place where BHP Billiton have pumped in huge amounts of money to create  somewhere attractive for their workers to live. In many respects it seemed more like a resort than a town. Two large supermarkets were exceptionally well stocked with greater variety than we have seen before & made our eyes bulge after weeks of seeing only the occasional tiny & poorly stocked store in aboriginal communities. Here you could buy everything from imported Scottish black pudding to frozen Canadian salmon. A big sign outside one of the supermarkets made tribute to BHP’s contribution to shopping diversity in Newman. Prices, whilst higher than in the eastern states were on par with Perth (Western Australian capital city). With the exception of tourist vehicles almost every other car was identified as a company vehicle with Hi Vis decals & numbering on their sides, as well as carrying the obligatory health & safety sand flags. We stayed two nights at the caravan park, also owned by BHP (but managed by one of their logistics contractors).
It was a noisy place, with folk coming & going, plus the regular sound of the huge iron ore carrying trains passing & the frequent road trains bringing in supplies, but it suited our purpose whilst we were there.

From Newman our route took us approximately 200kms south on the great Northern Highway until we ‘hung a right’ onto an un-signed dirt road westward toward Mt Augustus. The longest & first stretch of sealed road we had seen for a few weeks. Driving without corrugations & the need to concentrate on the road surface was a novelty for a short time, but we both soon expressed our preference for the intimacy of tracks which match the country we pass through. Stopping at Kumarina Roadhouse 160kms out of Newman to top up our fuel tanks we sat & ate hot chips whilst watching three low loaders pass by, each carrying a single 8 metre wide ore truck. They were quite an impressive sight & became even more so when a short time later we caught up with them on the road. When they were passing the roadhouse we hadn’t appreciated their width, but coming up behind them it was readily apparent that they took up the entire width of the road! They had 3 escort vehicles with them, one at the rear, one immediately in front, & one about 2kms in front of that. The first one constantly warned oncoming trucks & anyone else with a UHF radio to get well off the road to give the monsters space. Those without UHF’s were waved at & got the message to do the same.
Approaching from the rear, the rear escort called us up on the UHF & told us to get up close (“get right up me arse mate”) ready to take a run past as soon as there was a wider section of road. We were told that he’d only be able to get us around one at a time & that we’d need to ‘floor it’ to get around before the road narrowed again. It was all quite exciting, we could hear the front escort telling oncoming trucks of the approaching ‘3 x 8 metres’ & the communications from the middle escort to the rear escort informing him of what was coming up. “Camper Trailer- Go Mate Go” was the call & I floored the Patrol’s accelerator. Not exactly warp speed, but we got by in time & were now sandwiched between two behemoths. It was amusing now being ‘part of the convoy’. Oncoming caravans, trucks & cars were all pulled well off the road for us, & it was hard to resist giving them a ‘Queen -like wave as we passed them by. 🙂 Next we were told that there was a longer section of wider road coming up & that we would need to pass the front two trucks in one manoeuvre. They were close together so last second decisions to cut in between them were not an option. At this point they were doing 80Kph (our usual cruising speed) so we were going to have to really move as quick as the old car would take us to pass. When the call came, the 4.2 motor got revved as hard as I’ve ever done, it was heart in the mouth stuff, but we made it past, it was pretty tight though!

All the excitement probably covered 30+ kms, & shortly after it had passed, we managed to overshoot the un-signed turnoff we needed. A ‘u-ey’ (U-turn) saw us heading back to the convoy & having to pull off the road to let them pass, whilst feeling a tad sheepish about it after all the effort that had been made to allow us to overtake them, but our wave to the escort vehicles was reciprocated anyway.

The ore truck makes the haul truck look like a toy.
Quite an impressive sight we thought.
Waiting for the word to go.

Our turn off onto the dirt after our brief but exciting foray along bitumen roads again took us away from traffic & onto the sort of roads we prefer. Another 1000kms on station tracks before we would see tar again. These varied from wide red scars across the country to narrow 2-wheel-tracks lined with bush. Gravel or sandy surfaces throughout were a surprise to us as they were uniformly in fantastic condition, no corrugations, no potholes or washouts allowing for 80kph plus speeds in most places ….. but we still poodled along at 60 to 70 soaking up the experience. We pulled up at a Station Homestead alongside the road, Mingah Station. It was getting late in the afternoon & we wanted to find a spot to camp. I opened the gate, discouraging a few young steers who were hanging around, from entering & shut the gate behind me, walking toward the homestead. A lady approached in an open top 4wd & I explained we were passing through & requested permission to pull up somewhere for the night along the road on their station for the night. A brief but enjoyable conversation was had resulting in her giving directions to a pleasant waterhole on the Gascoyne River where she assured us we would be by ourselves. Yandigunna Pool was it’s name & provided us with our own sheltered spot on what was a windy night.

Yandigunna Pool
Bird Watching
Cuppa the fireman (Jon.D would be proud!)

Next day we continued on to the world’s largest rock, Mt Augustus (Burringurrah). Uluru (Ayers Rock) is large with a circumference of around 11 or 12kms (I think) whereas Mt Augustus has a circumference of almost 50kms. Impressive, but not bare like Uluru, but no less sacred to that country’s people, the Wajarri people. Camping is restricted to an area provided by an adjoining station – ok, but nothing special – they have a monopoly. All the walks involve climbing as one might expect on a rock, & the interest lay in finding the hidden gullies & gorges. At a few places we were able to view ancient aboriginal petroglyphs (stone surfaces chipped away to make pictures), but those we saw were unrecognisable to us, we wished we had some sort of interpretation available. Nevertheless we felt privileged to be in the presence of something produced by humans tens of thousands of years ago, the first rock art we have seen on this trip.
Mt Augustus was, for us, enjoyable, but not a trip highlight (perhaps we are being spoiled), in fact we enjoyed the drive to reach it just as much. Worth going to if in that part of the world & a good excuse to see more of the Gascoyne region.

Mt Augustus

Rock pool
Unintelligible Petroglyphs

I was always destined to be a caveman.

More unintelligible petroglyphs
Mynah on my chair
Beautiful arch.
Tree root
View of Mt Augustus from the Lyons River

River Redgum
Dust on the road beyond the trees at sunset

More station tracks took us past Cobra Station, down to Dairy Creek Station & along to Gascoyne Junction, a tiny settlement where once a pub had stood, until it eventually got washed away by the flooding Gascoyne River. Now the settlement revolves around a servo come restaurant come caravan park run by a black South African couple. Prices for camping were expensive (by our standards) but unexpectedly it was here we met up with our old travelling friends Alan & Lorelle. Meeting up with them whilst on the road has become a tradition we love to keep. Sharing travel stories over a few drinks the order of the day. They will take us with them (in spirit) to the 2019 Taggerty gathering, the first ever we will have not attended in person. Both had just been to the Kennedy Ranges for a few days & told us stories of communal fire-pit interactions & leg aching walks & climbs. We looked forward to doing the same after going our separate ways the next morning.

The Kennedy Range is a 75 km long escarpment, a remnant of an ancient sea & movement of the earth’s crust. Today it is an imposing & crumbling length of cliffs containing explorable gullies & gorges & providing run off from occasional rainfall to form small lakes on claypans. These are very picturesque with the cliff backdrop, which itself changes colour throughout the day according to the sun’s position. The walks (‘climbs’ is a more appropriate term as the walks were to the top of the range up boulder strewn gullies, & dry waterfalls) were enjoyable & provided some great views but for us it was our visit to a lake which was most enjoyable. It was drying out & the cracked mud surface was a magnet for my camera. Around the lake were a number of small ‘hives’ of a relatively rare burrowing bee, only found in Australia’s Gascoyne region. Dawson bees make holes in the damp ground & form ‘entry tubes’ out of mud brought up from the bottom of the hole. We are unsure if the holes are interconnected underground. Photographing them proved very difficult, they are so quick. The following video link shows them, but has been slowed down making their buzz sound like motorcycles. 🙂

Entry to the Kennedy Range National Park
The lake

Temple Gorge
A rock window in one branch of temple gorge

The jump

Honeycomb Gorge

View of the campground from the top

Collecting firewood!
Desert flowers
Domestic bliss?

3 nights allowed for a more relaxed approach, meaning that we were able to enjoy our times around the communal fire-pit each night without our tired limbs making it a chore.

From the National Park we followed yet more station tracks northward, eventually joining the North west Coastal Highway (bitumen again) close to Barradale, the site of a well known & well used free camp among grey nomad circles. We have stayed there in the past & an area reminiscent of a huge red dirt car park filled with caravans had not endeared itself to us, & thus we had resolved to chance an unknown option, having found some 4wd tracks into the now abandoned Cane River Station a little north of the Nanutarra Roadhouse. We found the track a little overgrown but followed it, crossing a few dry creek beds, past the old homestead gates where a sign warned of buried asbestos, & on down to the dry bed of the Cane River itself where we enjoyed a starlit sky around our campfire, knowing that we the only people around for many miles. It was the first time we camped alone for a week or so & we enjoyed the silence, as well as the ability to get our gear off for strip washes in the warm (evidence we had moved north again) morning around the camp!

Today as I type this we are staying with an old friend of MrsTea, they were friends around 40 years ago in the UK where they trained as nurses together. Whilst I type they are loving their talkfest of nostalgia. We are in Onslow on the coast, first ocean we have seen this trip. It’s a tiny town with few services. They do however have a mechanical/air conditioning service, handy as this is what we needed. An air con pipe has fractured & so we have no cooling in the vehicle. They diagnosed the problem quickly & efficiently & made phone calls to get parts availability & price. I should have been sitting down – $660 for a 9” aluminium pipe, two O rings & fitting. Labour charge in this neck of the woods is $153 per hour! We declined & have ordered a pipe from the Nissan dealer in Broome ($161) & MrsTea’s friend’s son, who just happens to have an air conditioning company in Broome will fit it & re-gas it for us when we get up there.

We have also found another problem on the vehicle. All the uneven ground we have been covering has resulted in several sheared bolts which hold the canopy to the chassis. I fitted Hi Tensile 10.9 12mm bolts before we left home, but suspect I overtightened them, causing them to stretch enough that the flexing of the chassis in the rough stuff has been enough to push them past their breaking point. I have replaced the broken ones with spares I carried, but feel it prudent to get a few more ‘just in case’ so instead of heading to Milstream Chichester National Park via Pannawonica, we will now go to Karratha first in the hope of getting some there. It will give us the opportunity to check out the ancient Burrup Peninsula petroglyphs which we had thought we would see another time.

7 thoughts on “Mt Augustus & Kennedy Range NP

  1. Loving your videos…..the one where you crossed the river was breathtaking for this homebody who has never set foot in a 4WD!

  2. Cuppa,
    I was one of the first (10 people) of the initial construction crew to move into Mt. Newman in 1967/8.
    The medical centre/first aid unit was established before the site office was built. In those days the RFDS came from Meekathara in a little single engine aircraft and had to overnight at Mt Newman for a first-light takeoff the next morning. How things have changed over the years.

  3. I have finally caught up with your blog Cuppa, haven’t had time while on holidays myself. All good reading, I hope you and Mrs Tea are enjoying yourselves

  4. Barradale Rest Area is now sealed and has one of the more modern toilets. If you want the option of being well away from the “grey nomads” (are you two not in that category?) there is still a dirt/boggy area further in.

    1. No derogatory sleight on grey nomads (of which we certainly are) Maurie, just that we like to find places to ourselves. So many free camps today are crowded like caravan parks. We wouldn’t choose caravan parks either even if free. Horses for courses.

  5. What fascinating things the bees are,do they sting like the ones here? Perhaps that’s a silly question!!! Julie you look lovely sitting amongst the flowers and also with your old friend with your tongue out xx

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.