The Savannah Way: please arrive alive

Between Katherine National Park and the town of Kununurra in the breathtaking Kimberley region lies 539 kilometers of wide open road: the Victoria Highway. What is out here? Sarcastic road signs, questionable photo opportunities, a great road house experience and lots of angry birds…

Getting rid of wallaby poo on your camping chairs: there’s something you don’t do every morning! After our boat cruise through Katherine Gorge, we leave Nitmuluk behind, head back to the city of Katherine to go west. From there on, the Victoria highway is our only companion. Want to know how desolate this road is exactly? This sign says it all:

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It’s the only ‘Please arrive alive’-sign we saw on the whole trip. I’m guessing they replaced all of these with less worrying messages like ‘Don’t drive tired’, but forgot to remove this one! During the next few hours we see exactly what you’d expect in Western Australia: road kill and hungry crows, floodways that are as dry as a dead dingo’s donger (excuse my Aussie language) and red-green-blue till far in the horizon (red dirt, green bushes, blue sky). It’s hard to imagine that huge parts of these lands are actually under water during the wet season, especially with all the fire warning signs along the road. At one point there’s a fire in the distance but that is not necessarily something to panic about here. During the cooler months, there are a lot of ‘controlled burnings’: people start fires on purpose, to reduce the amount of vegetation and decrease risk of real bushfires during the hotter months. It also helps to maintain biodiversity.

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Still shot from my videocamera: take care with fire!

Traces on the tarmac

Another interesting phenomenon: the occasional skid marks on the road. The traces of burnt rubber on the tarmac spread out in the wildest directions, as if a big giant used the road as a canvas to make arbitrary pencil drawings on. The only logical explanation I can think of is that sometimes drivers doze off at the wheel. Their cars (or trucks) then start leading a life of their own, swinging and turning from right to left, onto the sand banks and back on the road. Sometimes it’s just two wheels, sometimes four, sometimes more. Pretty disturbing if you try to imagine the moment.

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Victoria Highway

Interesting side note: the Victoria Highway is a part of the Savannah way, Australia’s ‘Adventure Drive’: the whole road starts in Cairns, all the way east and takes you via Queensland and Katherine to Broome, all the way west: a road stretch of  3.700 kilometers … and about half the distance of what we’re doing in this trip from north to south.

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A very, very far-fetched photo opportunity

A few miles before Victoria River, our stopping place for the night, a road sign with a big drawing of a camera on it, tells us about a photo opportunity on the left : ’Top Springs’. We figure we have some time left before sunset so we follow the sign and turn left at the intersection. After a few miles though, without any other road marking to tell us we’re nearly there, we get suspicious and consult our map. Turns out Top Springs is another 200 kilometers down the road… Do people really make a detour of 400 kilometers for a photo opportunity!? We wheel round, create our own little photo opportunity of a cool gate and continue on Victoria Highway.

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The usual scenery. You can see how a gate suddenly is mighty interesting…

Must do: Victoria River Roadhouse

We could have continued the road for 30 kilometer to spend the night at the entrance of Gregory National Park, but as we approach the Victoria River Roadhouse, we are so drawn to its strangeness, that we decide to stay here. Victoria River is a tiny settlement with really nothing more than a roadhouse. The whole setting reminded us of the motels in the East of Canada: a bit rusty, peculiar and unworldly, but unique, charming in its own way and full of surprises. And that’s exactly what we got. In front is the service station and bar, the camping area is in the back. I regret not having taken a photo of the bar: heavy ‘moustached’ manager making jokes, truckers having a high calorie meal, postcards and souvenirs that look like they have been around longer than us… Somehow it all makes sense here!

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Now open under new… wife
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The entrance to the camping area
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Pump in front of the road house

Another great thing about this roadhouse is the location: the Victoria River flowing on the left (the longest river in the Northern Territory of Australia), ragged rock formations on the right. Both freshwater and saltwater crocs live in the river, so we’re hoping to get a glimpse of them early in the morning. But first: dinner and bedtime!

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I wonder if anyone lives here…
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Cooking our usual pasta meal on the camping area of the roadhouse

Waking up to a birdsong

Waking up to a birdsong sounds very romantic and it probably is, as long as the bird is not a Little Corella. These white cockatoo’s flock together in large groups and spend the night in trees together, quietly. But as soon as the early morning breaks, the birds speak out. They don’t really sing, they produce more like a hoarse and blatant scream. First there’s one bird, screeching in such a sad tone that you almost feel sorry. Then there’s two and before you know it, hundreds of little corellas are shrieking at the same time. The pitty is over, especially if you’re not a morning person! Some of the birds fly off for a feed, the others stay in the trees close to us and continue screeching. There’s just one thing left to do when it’s 4am in the morning and you’re lying in a campervan: you get up! We start our walk to the river a bit earlier than planned – I was standing on the bridge in pajama’s, that’s how barbarically early it was. On a positive note: it was a lovely cool morning walk, plus we didn’t miss the sunrise. At least we can give those little noisy sleep thieves credit for that…

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Little Corella on a card set we bought later on

I dare you to sit the full 48 seconds out:

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The Victoria River

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See what a little sunlight can do to the scenery… Here’s before the sunrise:

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And here’s after:

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A wallaby crosses the highway

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Our faithful travel companions.
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An early trucker is getting ready to hit the road again. And so are we!

Other posts about Western Australia: