Tales of a tireless traveller – the trials and tribulations of hitting the road to Broome

Hi Jen,

Your assignment for me to travel the Great Northern Highway presented all the anticipated fascination and beauty that a three-day road trip up WA could. But there’s been real-life drama and outback oddities, too.

Fellow caravan cavaliers, also with eyes for wildflowers and wonder, will have seen it in their own ways.

We were variously forced off the road, confronted by a snow-white peacock, coughed-up probably the world’s highest-prices for fuel and met all-age travellers on the road – as young as one year.

Now in Broome, I can report that overnighting in caravan parks for the three nights proved to be both enlightening and entertaining.

Our first stop, Wheatbelt town Dalwallinu – “the first shire along the Wildflower Way” – is just 248 kms from Perth. Hardly a major milestone when you have 2,240 kms to travel.

But, back in Perth with car and caravan set to leave, our (freshly-serviced) 4WD wouldn’t kick-over. Two RAC call-outs and a replacement battery fitted, we didn’t hit the road till 3pm.

Dalwallinu caravan park being closed at 6pm, we helped ourselves to a powered-site and in the morning left the $24.50 nightly fee in an honesty box.

We pulled over at Mt Magnet for lunch where a shared toasted ham-cheese-tomato bagel and two good coffees set us back $18.40.

We took on board enough diesel to tally up another $199. Vehicles cost more to feed than humans.

Along the highway is a steady flow of trucks, caravans, vans, converted buses and a group of disability cyclists on a fundraiser.

Wildflowers aren’t abundant but, being just the start of the season, the great hope is to capture all their flourishing glory coming back late in August.

North of Meekatharra, road trains were coming thick-and-fast towards us, heading south with great loads of machinery and materials and swamping us with their bursts of passing air.

In one mighty swoosh, with our car and caravan swaying, my car’s external mirror – mounted with a second mirror required for caravan towing – smashed into the driver’s window.

The strapped-on mirror was torn away and is strewn across the Great Northern Highway.

North-west towns are probably strong retailers of towing mirrors.

By the time we reached Kumarina Roadhouse, midway between Meekatharra and Newman, we were thirsty but not as parched as our trusty Toyota Prado which needed quenching to the tune of $100.

Caravan camping here, at $25-a-night, comes with ablution blocks resembling ships’ containers with individual shower-toilet cubicles called en suites. And unisex cubicles.

Back on the road, Kenny Rogers became stuck in our DVD player. He’s still there, until we can price technical repairs in Broome. The British Royal family, incidentally, is lodged in our caravan TV/DVD so we’ll get a quote for that repair, as well.

For word and music from the outside while motoring, all we have to rely on is the ABC’s network, in the absence of commercial station coverage. We are fully abreast of cattle prices.

Animal sightings have been good: Swarms of hovering hawks and occasional wedge-tail eagles sticking their beaks into road kill. One was attacking the head of a black snake.

A few truck-terminated cows, on their backs with legs unceremoniously splayed in the air, appeared to attract no raptors. No beef eaters?

We mostly avoided night-driving to spare the roos, but when we did drive owls swooped our headlights.

It was in broad daylight that we came face-to-face with the biggest threat – a mighty truck loaded with one of the world’s biggest mining machines, protruding over both sides of the Great Northern Highway.

Ahead of this load-bearing monster was the mandatory pilot vehicle with lights-flashing. But the car was barely in front of the terror-on-wheels – not enough warning for us to plot an orderly exit off the highway.

Hitting the brakes with a two-tonne caravan hitched-on is nervy enough but finding a level patch of earth on the side of the highway and dodging a roadside white post isn’t relished.

Massive trucks with pilot cars are common up and down the highway but perhaps pilot cars or their flashing signs could be colour-coded: Green for long load, blue for wide load and red for get off the road now.

We pulled into Munjina for $100 of diesel and a natter with fellow travellers. New father, Adelaide builder Leighton Brow, fills his enormous RV’s tanks as wife Carly attends to ablutions. With diesel pump in one hand, Leighton is left holding the baby.

“It isn’t illegal to hold a baby while pumping fuel, is it?” he laughs when I take a photo.

One-year-old Bruce, will have tackled WA and the Top End before he’s two. Dad and mum having sold-up their house in Adelaide for a time-free run on the roads.

We overnight for $30 at Pardoo and head for Sandfire Roadhouse where tourists are greeted by an all-white peacock looking incongruously out-of-place in the outback. And along comes a free-range red chook, too sensible to accept a tourist’s offering of part-sausage roll from the food stop.

Fuel-desperate travellers pour into this outpost where, mysteriously, the gents’ and ladies toilet signs have been put on upside down. (Perhaps because we’re Down Under).

At Sandfire Roadhouse we give the 4WD a modest drink of diesel – just enough to get us to Broome and cheaper prices – and hand over $90.

Regulars top up their tanks on the road coming out of Port Hedland to avoid some of Australia’s highest fuel prices.

I tried to fill-up at Port Hedland but the BP pump refused to give out more than $60 worth and we consequently motored into Broome at 85 kms-an-hour to conserve fuel and make the distance.

Travelling north comes at a price. But we wouldn’t be anywhere else.

It is God’s own country, as every numbat can tell you.

Yours Faithfully, “Numbat” AKA Lee Tate (Paying tribute to our state emblem)