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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Cape Leveque - more beachy goodness

10 - 12 /06/2017
Cape Leveque (Western Australia)
Distance Travelled:
208 km

days ‘cihillaxing’ on the beach:

Today we would be heading away from our comfy little trailer, and heading off with our tent, for one last time. Whenever we transfer our lives from the van and ‘go bush’ for a few days, it always amazes me how much we can fit into the boot of our car. In these moments, I am very thankful for the 20 minutes we spent before leaving Melbourne; during which I took out the third row of seats from the back of the car and stowed them away in our spare room. I’m sure these extra seats will come in handy in years to come, particularly when we’re providing a taxi service to our kids and all their mates; but now they would have just been extra weight to lug around this vast continent. What’s more, with the seats gone, a whole chunk of extra boot space appeared (including a compartment in which to store those items that only reared their heads once in a blue moon). Under the floor of the boot we had stowed all the camping beds, along with a pump to blow them up; a handy spade for digging us out of tight spots (or building sandcastles on the beach, when not otherwise engaged in saving our lives); an air compressor to pump up our tyres (see Darwin Post for more on this); my tool box and fishing gear; as well as an assortment of other bits and pieces that just didn’t quite fit anywhere else.

With our car crammed full to the brim, we made our way a few kilometres down the road to a trailer storage facility. Pulling up, we noticed another family was also waiting to drop off their own trailer. Having a quick chat to these folks, we learned that they had been waiting for a while and there was no sign of the facility owner turning up. So, after a few phone calls, we were able to drag the manager out of bed and had him open up so we could lock away our trailer. As soon as we were done, we snuck off before the trailer knew what was happening...

Heading out of town, we followed the same route out of Broome by which we’d arrived a few days earlier. However, this time we were heading towards the turn off to Cape Leveque, only a few kilometres up the road. The road started smoothly enough and there was even bitumen for the first 14km or so… But from there, it quickly turned a little, errm, troubling. Hitting the end of the paved road, we pulled over and let down our tyres. As usual, this was pretty much guess work, but whatever PSI we ended up at, we were glad we did. Moving up the road, we found it to be littered with remnants of many tyre carcasses and bits of old rubber. That’s never a good sign…

Cape Leveque - Road Information

But onwards we pushed. The track that lay before us began reasonably enough. A few bumps here, a bit of sand there. But very soon these small bumps turned into ever bigger and more incessant contusions. At times, the furrows subsided for a while, but in their place the sand grew ever deeper and clawed at our tyres. The road also started to bank up on either side – in places, we found ourselves driving on slopes of at least 30 – 40 degrees. But, despite the precariousness of these steeply banked roads, they were still preferable from driving on the heavily corrugated soft sand down in the valley floor of the track. On the odd occasion that we did pass a car travelling in the other direction, we weren’t always certain if either vehicle would be able to maintain their trajectory on the sandy walls, or if one would come careening down towards the other…

Bumpy banked roads

…but, two and a half hours later, we arrived at the end of Cape Leveque and turned into the driveway of the remote Kooljaman wilderness camp. This little gem was owned and run by the indigenous Bardi Jawi communities. It was a perfect spot, tucked up against the shores of ocean, for a few days of swimming, fishing and exploring an untouched marine wilderness. And there we stayed for three long, blissful days!

Kooljaman campsite

Having arrived late in the afternoon, we only had time to wander down the beach to explore a few kilometres of seascape. This stretch of beach was magnificent. Slowly curling waves crashed languidly against the white sandy shore.

Knowing that it would soon be sunset, we also took a few drinks and nibbles (as well as our camp chairs) down to the beach to sit and watch the sun head towards the horizon. The brilliant red sunset glared down on the equally dazzling red rocks of the cliffs behind us. Soon, the whole landscape was enflamed by a ruddy glow. And so, with beer in hand (fruit drink for the kids) we marvelled at the solar light show that was put on just for us.

Sunset at the Kooljaman Campsite

After a hearty meal and retiring to our tent for a good night’s sleep, we woke the next morning ready to head off on an adventure of a lifetime. One of the big draw cards that had brought us to Cape Leveque was the chance to go on a tag-along-tour with a local aboriginal guide. In this part of the world, the name Brian Lee is synonymous with an awesome day out! For a small fee, Brian takes out a group of people deep into the traditional lands of the Bardi Jawi people. He is known for the stories he tells, his knowledge of the land, as well as for relating the traditional stories of his people and giving a glimpse into their way of life. Being a tag-along-tour, you take your own car and follow him through some rather inhospitable terrain. For me, I was keen to use this as an opportunity to expand my knowledge of driving our little Pajero through some areas that I wouldn’t have been confident to attempt on my own.

Along the way, there would also be opportunities to fish at secret fishing holes and Brian would take his tag-alongers to his favourite mud crab hunting grounds. The day was set to be topped off with a big feast of all the sea food we’d managed to collect over the day; before heading home as the sun went down.

But, alas, turning up to reception at the crack of dawn, we were sadly told that the renowned Brian Lee had injured himself whilst walking over a bed of oysters during a recent tour. His feet, we were informed, had been cut to shreds and he couldn’t walk or drive his car. As much as I felt sorry for Mr Lee, we were all deeply disappointed that we weren’t able to go ahead with what would have been an awesome experience. As for me, I was particularly sad that I wouldn’t be able to get the tips and tricks I’d hoped to learn about driving through some very inhospitable conditions.

Standing forlornly at the reception building, we realised that we had to come up with a plan for the day we didn’t expect to have free. Together, we studied the hand-drawn map we of the Kooljaman area. Being on a peninsula, there were beaches all around us; but on closer inspection there were a series of arcane signs drawn on the map; some had symbols of fish, other indicated swimming, but many also had warnings about sharks and other deadly wildlife.

Chatting to the helpful ladies behind the reception desk, we decided that the best course of action would be to follow a chunk of the trail that we would have covered during the Brian Lee tour. However, this would take us down a narrow sandy path, as well as over a few sand dunes, onto the beach to the south of the campsite. Fortunately, the crew at Kooljaman were well prepared for this and an air compressor had been set up for travellers to reinflate their tyres after they had taken a spin down the track and along the beach. So, determining that this would be our destination for the day, we made our way down the coastal track and dropped our tyre pressure to 18 PSI. This was the lowest I’d dared go throughout the trip to date; but one of the friendly folks at reception had cheerfully told us that her husband was down on the beach today – so if we got stuck, we could flag him down to help get us out… Now that’s an insurance policy, WA style!

Sandy road to beach

With our tyres deflated as much as I dared, we faced off against the sand dunes and gritted our teeth. It was a case of either do or die (well, do or walk back with our tail between our legs and get some help… but, sitting behind the wheel, it felt a little more epic than that!). Revving the engine, I made sure the car was in a low gear and faced off against the sandy nemesis. Getting a good amount of speed up, we started floating over the sand. Onwards we travelled. Bumping our way along on top of the white powder, until, FINALLY, we reached the other end.

Having made it to our destination, we unpacked our chairs and the beach umbrella that we’d hired from a little cafĂ© / shop / book exchange run by a woman from a local community, as well as our snorkels and fishing gear.

The day was passed either casting a line into, or frolicking amongst, the waves. Sadly, there was no great catch pulled out of the sea that day (although the bloke next to us pulled in a few… just bad luck, I guess). Having grown tired of trying to catch a fish, we decided to go and look at them instead. So, having donned masks and snorkels, we plodded into the waves. Despite a few little nippers near popping up the shore, we didn’t see a whole lot in the crystal-clear waters of the bay. The water was warm and the surf was fun to play in, so we didn’t feel too hard done by for our lack of any bites in the morning. Nat stayed out of the water, and for most of the day was found on the beach reading a book under her umbrella; however, she also took time out of her busy schedule to wander down the beach and collect a few shells to arrange in a pretty design.

Over the course of the day, the tide rolled in (causing us to move the car a fair bit higher up the beach on several occasions) and the out again. It was amazing how far the ocean moved between high and low tides. At one point, we were pinned against the sand dunes at the top of the beach, the next we were wandering many meters down to the low tide mark. As we explored the newly exposed sand left behind as the tide receded, we also picked up many meters of lost fishing line, sinkers and hooks that had been discarded by other people fishing. It soon also became clear as to why so much fishing tackle littered the beach. Hidden amongst the waves were columns of razor sharp oysters, clinging to rocks like some crudely made defence against intruders storming the beach.

Unfortunately, I too fell victim to this defensive outpost, and I managed to slice open one of my toes whilst swimming around the rocks. I suddenly developed great empathy for our would-be-guide, Brian Lee, and the multiple cuts he had all over his feet. I mean, these little suckers are so sharp that I didn’t even feel the cut (but was only alerted to the damage when I noticed the water turning bright red). “Bugger”, I thought, “That’ll hurt in the morning…”

Our final day on Cape Leveque was spent back at the same beach we had navigated to the day before. This time, however, we came prepared with our reef shoes (to fend off the razor-sharp oysters), a bag full of plasters (aka band-aides), and a spade (for some serious sandcastle action).

Having tried our luck again (unsuccessfully) at fishing and had and taken our fill of the ocean from under the waves, we turned our attention to the hitherto unadulterated sand that lay all around us.

When I was a kid, I remember building a gigantic car out of sand with my dad and my brother… I think this might have been on a trip to on a summer holiday in New Zealand (possibly on the Coromandel peninsula). But what does stick out for me was the car. All day long I remember having spent crafting that lovely sandy automobile; until in the end, we had a sculpture to be proud of!

And so, when my kids said, “let’s build a sandcastle, Dad”, that’s what came flooding back.

For many hours we toiled away at that beast. In the end, we stood back and admired our creation; and felt proud that we had even added a trailer on the back as well!. Looking a little like Herbie´ from the 1968 film ‘The Love Bug’, in the end our little car was big enough for Ben and Daniel to take the front seats and I was dragged along behind!

Our fabulous ‘sand car-stle’

We got a few smiles as people passed us on the beach and were even asked if we could take some folks for a spin up and down the beach (the boys swelling with pride as the compliments came). But, as with all sand sculptures, in the end, the tide began its indifferent procession back up the beach – and it was time for our awesome creation to meet its soggy end. However, rather than allowing it to be slowly consumed by the ocean, Nat and the boys took great glee in crumbling the short-lived car into a pile of flattened sand once again.

Before the sun fully set, we made our way back to our real car and headed to the campsite once again. A block of cheese was pulled from the esky (aka Chilly Bin) and we made our way to the top of the cliffs to watch the sun go down.

Cape Leveque - final sun set

Dragging ourselves out of bed the next morning, we were sorry to leave this amazing slice of paradise. If time had been permitting, we could easily have stayed much, much longer.

And so, with great sadness, we packed up our tent and shoved our belongings back into the car. With everything stowed away, we began the return journey down the formidable track that brought us to Cape Leveque. There was, however, an altogether too brief moment of excitement when we passed a huge snake sunning itself in the middle of the road. Two ‘Steve Urwin’ imitators had already pulled up and were using their jackets and spare shoes to try and shoo it off the road. For a while the serpent headed towards our car, which gave ample opportunities for a few awesome snaps, but it eventually made its way across to the sunny side of the road opposite us.

Snake-based excitement over, we continued to battle our way down the tilted sandy track, back to the end of the Cape Leveque road. With a little good fortune, we managed to make our way the end of the road without incident once more. Pumping up our tyres and refuelling at a nearby service station, we were ready to roll! All we needed was our ever-faithful trailer, which we subsequently picked up, then we were away.

Our destination for the next few days was to be Karijini National park. However, there were a few miles to cover first …

As much as I truly loved Cape Leveque, I must admit that I was glad to see the back of our tent for a while. It was therefore a pleasure to be able to store the green and red beast under the front seats of the van once more, as we continued our grand tour of Australia back down to Victoria. Don’t get me wrong, I am eternally grateful for the warmth and protection that this little dome of wonder has provided us from the elements. I am also exceptionally grateful to Nat’s folks for lending this mini-marquee to us!! But, squeezing Nat, I, and two growing lads into a two-man tent has been a bit of a push at times. Then again, without this cloth carapace, we simply wouldn’t have been able to behold some of the most spectacular sights we have seen on this journey.

So, with a bit of perspective, I shall wrap up our fabric igloo, our silken cottage, our clothed dome, with the reverence and respect it deserves (I might even find it in my heart to scrap off some of the bird poo it has accumulated along the way) and store it as one would a fallen solider awaiting a return to its home soil…

Bye ‘d bye