Robert Louis Stevenson, once noted that “to travel hopefully was a better thing than to arrive”. But then, Robert Louis Stevenson had never been in a Land Rover Discovery being driven by Tanya at 100 km hour down a narrow corrugated sandy road in the fading light being bounced around, and in fear for his life. Had he ever had such an experience, I am confident he would have amended his quote to say something like – “My gosh, we’re going fast, let’s slow down, before we all die, help help, dear God, please get me out of this car!” But we’ll come back to that later.
Since leaving El Questro, we had followed the ‘Savanna Way’ round the southern part of the Kimberley to the small town of Derby, where we stayed for a few, eventful days, and then on to Broome on the coast of the Indian Ocean and the ‘tourist centre’ of the Kimberley. In doing so, we had now driven from the bottom right hand corner of Australia to the top left, covering nearly 10,000 kms. Of course, the reason we called this blog “Four Corners” was that we set out to visit the four corners of this continent. Naturally, as Australia is not a square, or in fact, any recognised geometric shape (except maybe an ‘Australahegon’ which is not generally a shape taught in schools), we therefore get the privilege of determining where the corners actually are. We had decided early on that we would make our first corner the top of the Dampier Peninsula, a point known as Cape Leveque, on the north-western tip of the Kimberley – as it marked the point where we would be changing direction to start heading East. From the tourist hub of Broome, the road up the Dampier Peninsula is reputed to be one of the worst in the region – unmade, narrow, rarely graded and bone jarringly corrugated. And as you drive along it, you see a trail of shredded tyres, bumpers, car windows, fuel cans and other bits and pieces that have been bounced off passing cars. There are even a few burnt out remains of vehicles which presumably died a terminal death along the way.
At the very top of the peninsula, however, the landscape is stunning, and like so much in this region, otherworldy, in places looking more like the surface of Mars, than Earth. There are a number of Aboriginal settlements on the peninsula but no towns and only a few campsites and very limited places to stay. As we had already got accommodation booked in Broome, we decided to try to see the peninsula in a day – which in hindsight was probably a mistake. Having got to the very top by about 3pm, and with Sunset at 5:30, not only did we need to try to drive the 220 odd km to get back down off the Peninsula before dark – but Tanya was determined to get to the beach at Point Gantheaume, just to the south of Broome to photograph the sunset. It seemed unlikely that we would make it, but with Tanya at the wheel, I should have known better. Particularly when she discovered that the experience of hitting the narrow sandy track at speed reminded her of her youth ski-ing down a triple black diamond ski-slope. It meant that myself and the two dogs were in for a white-knuckle ride.
It’s not so much the bone-jarring corrugations that alarmed me – you get used to those, it’s the undulations in the road surface which caused the car to leap into the air, a bit like a porpoise frolicking on a sunlit sparking ocean wave – except you need to replace the porpoise with an overloaded Land Rover Discovery with dodgy suspension, and the sunlit ocean wave with the fore-mentioned dusty, rough corrugated sandy road. And rather than gracefully touching back into the water with barely a splash, the car hits the road with a thunk, the suspension bottoms out and then you’re hitting the next hump and being launched back into the air, gripping the door handle with all your strength while trying to hold on to your lunch. Meanwhile, in the back, the dogs wondered what canine hell they were now being forced to visit, sitting upright and trembling. After a particularly scary series of bounces, my nerves shredded, I briefly considered if flinging myself from the moving car to join the debris by the roadside might be the best option, but then finally Tanya responded to my yelps to slow down and we all breathed a brief sigh of relief before she hit the accelerator once more and we started another series of rolling bounces.
But with the light starting to fade, finally we were at the end of the road – amazingly enough, we had managed to make it back to Broome – in one piece, with very little bounced off the car and in time to see the sunset.