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Kimberley and NT News: Wet season update, road reports, Geikie Gorge cruises online booking
March 21, 2018

21 March 2018, Issue #064

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In this issue:
  • Wet Season Update
  • Road Status and Condition Reports
  • Geikie Gorge Boat Cruises Can Now Be Booked Online
  • Update from Monica, Coping With a Vehicle Break-in
  • Reader Feedback
  • I Will Be Away April 13 - May 6!


The weather is keeping everyone on their toes!

You may have heard about cyclone Marcus. Another cyclone might be right behind him and there is potential for more.

But take heart, it's not as bad as it sounds...

Wet Season Update

Not long after my last newsletter, in which I told you that "at least for now no big tropical low or potential cyclone is imminent", news emerged of a tropical low expected to shortly form a cyclone, and then head for the Top End and Kimberley.

Cyclone Marcus, as the system was named, struck Darwin as a category 2 cyclone on Saturday. While it caused a lot of damage in Darwin (more on that below), it luckily spared the Kimberley. Yes, it did pass over the most northern parts. Kalumburu had a very windy day on Sunday and received over 90mm of rain, other places recorded up to 120mm. Yes, a fair few trees blew over in places. But in the big picture, it wasn't a big deal.

Marcus moved away from the coast, further out to sea, and eventually passed 155 km north of Cape Leveque, heading for the Indian Ocean. Since it never headed inland, we also didn't get the widespread flooding we saw with the previous systems.

So what happened in Darwin? A surprising amount of damage, given that the winds reached around 130 km/h.

Sure, those are bloody strong winds, especially if sustained over hours. But it is not the kind of wind that tears down houses (at least not houses properly built to cyclone standards), flips cars on their roof etc.

Yet hundreds and hundreds of trees were uprooted in Darwin in a trail of destruction, downing countless power lines and leading to over 30,000 people losing power to their homes. Half of them were still without power on Monday! The outages affected people as far south as Batchelor and Adelaide River.

It turns out that the vast majority of the fallen trees were African mahoganies. Those trees have been very popular for quite some time, not just in Darwin but across the whole north. I remember when they first appeared in Kununurra.
They are pretty trees, make great shade trees, and do very well in this climate. But more importantly to the people who plant them: they grow very fast.

Unfortunately they are also shallow rooted and not a match for a cyclone, not even for one that wasn't all that ferocious.

Marcus was the first storm of that severity to hit Darwin in over 30 years. 30 years ago there were no large mahoganies, so the problem has not been as evident.

Needless to say, the government is now looking at replacing the remaining mahoganies with native species.

Luckily they might have a bit more time for that than initially feared: Another NT low pressure system and potential cyclone had been forecast to follow on the heels of Marcus, potentially as early as mid week.
That system is expected to be upgraded to a cyclone by Fri, but it is currently forecast to move further to the east and into the gulf. For now it seems unlikely to impact Darwin or the Kimberley. Let's hope it doesn't change its mind.

(On a side note: Some of you may know that I am a big fan of permaculture, so it will come as no surprise that I've never been a fan of imported species, no matter where and for what reason. Native species are perfectly suited to whatever the climate throws at them and need the least care. But more importantly, they offer food, shelter and more to the native wildlife. Exotics are often totally useless to our insects, birds and little mammals. Who knows, Marcus may have done the Darwin bird population a huge favour in the long run!)

In closing, I guess I can only repeat what I said in the last newsletter:

Nothing seems imminent right now, but we still can't be sure that it's over.
There is still monsoonal activity, so a late cyclone is still on the cards.

Keep your fingers crossed!

Road Status and Condition Reports

Easter is nearing and the first travellers will soon hit the roads up north.

(If that is you, make sure to send us some reports and pictures!)

With the situation as unpredictable as it currently is, you need access to current information about the state of the roads and crossings.

Obviously getting it from me won't be good enough once you are on your way, since I only write to you every few weeks. When travelling, you need more frequent updates.

So where do you get those?

Check the appendix of your Destination Guide!

Destination Kimberley and Destination Top End both have an appendix with that information.

There you find all the links and phone numbers for the shire offices and reports, the national park offices and their reports, overview reports that already collect all that info in one place, as well as links to the respective pages on the BOM website where you can check the weather forecasts and alerts, recent rainfall amounts and flood levels.
(Note that the deep links on the NT road report website have changed, but the new site is so user friendly, you will easily find what you are looking for from the home page.)

Of course I will continue to update you as well, but as I said, I only do that every few weeks.

The situation at the moment:

Currently the Gibb River Road is open for high clearance 4WD from the east up to the Pentecost crossing, closed between the Pentecost and Mt. Barnett, and open west of Mt. Barnett.
Note: Only the Gibb itself is open in those parts (as it is most of the time during a wet season). Not the gorges, national parks or station stays!

Here is an outlook on what is expected to happen:

Pentecost crossing to Mt. Barnett is currently estimated/hoped to open some time early May, maybe even end of April.

The Kalumburu Road is not expected to open all the way before mid to late May.

These are rough predictions, based on reports from station owners who went out to have a look at the roads.

Wyndham shire staff will have a look at the Pentecost and the Kalumburu Road early April, after that we might know more.

Of course, all of this assumes that it stays as dry as it's been.

If you are on Facebook you can access these unofficial forecasts on the Kalumburu Tourism page.

And here is an official date: El Questro Station has set their opening date for March 29. (I already had that info in Destination Kimberley for quite some time. Note that Emma Gorge only opens in May.)

Purnululu is expected to open on its usual date: April 1. (That part of the Kimberley has been no wetter than usual.)

I have no information yet regarding the parks on the western end of the Gibb or about the Mitchell Falls. These areas have been affected by the rains from the cyclones. They will need time to dry out, for the rivers and creeks to go down, and to fix any possible damage to the tracks.

The situation is similar in the NT. All major highways are open, including the Arnhem and Kakadu highways in Kakadu National Park and the sealed ring road in Litchfield.
But there isn't much you can access yet in Kakadu other than Nourlangie and Yellow Water.
In Litchfield, too, many attractions and walks are still closed as is all swimming.

Info for the NT parks is much easier to get hold of than for the Kimberley:
Here is info for parks in the Darwin region and here for Katherine.

(Naturally, no such concerns in the Red Centre. It's just still stinking hot there.)

Geikie Gorge Boat Cruises Can Now Be Booked Online

The most popular way to see Geikie Gorge is by boat.
You know from Destination Kimberley that two different cruises are available:
Those run by the Department of Parks and Wildlife and the Darngku Heritage Cruises.

I also wrote in the guide that for the DPaW cruises there is no requirement or option to book ahead.
This has changed!

As of this year you can book the DPaW cruises online!

Of course it is still possible to book the usual way: right at the gorge, up to 30 minutes prior to departure, paying with cash.
But since the online option now exists, it will also get used.
And that means I have to add the usual:

If you are travelling during peak season, especially if you are on a tight schedule where everything has to happen exactly at your specified time, it's a good idea to book ahead to make sure you can get on the cruise at your preferred time.

(The new online option offered by the DPaW has nothing to do with the Darngku cruises. You still need to book those as described in Destination Kimberley, through the Fitzroy Crossing Tourist Bureau, 08 9191 5355.)

Update from Monica, Coping With a Vehicle Break-in

Monica has been in touch and sent me the most recent version of her guide Destination Red Centre.

Like I do, Monica updates her guide all the time as information becomes available and I will let you know about important changes in the newsletter.

But we also do one big yearly read through to ensure that contact details, prices etc. are up to date. (Those can change any time so you will always find one here and there that isn't.)

Monica also told me that usually there really isn't much for her to update. Tourism in the Red Centre has been so well established over so many years, things just don't change much any more.

I have noticed the same for Destination Top End. It is only in the Kimberley that things are still evolving a lot and with that constantly changing.

Anyway, what I am saying is, all guides are as current as can be!

Monica also sent me the below account of her recent, unpleasant experience of having their car broken into, to share with you.

I know that some of my readers have also had to deal with that in the past.

While it happened to Monica at the end of a deserted track, in the Kimberley it is most likely to happen in the towns.

Monica is sharing with you what she learned from the experience, in the hope that it will help you to protect your valuables and your privacy, should the same thing happen to you.

As always from Monica, it's excellent advice.

Coping with a vehicle break-in

Unfortunately this happened to us recently. We parked our car at the end of a 4WD track and went for a walk, only to discover that someone had thrown a rock through the side window and helped themselves to a wallet, cash, phone, Tom Tom gps device, keys and assorted other items. There is nothing we could have done to prevent getting broken into but there are some lessons to learn so that next time they won't get away with as much! 

The wallet, phone and keys were in the console between the two front seats. Bad mistake. It's probably the first place the thieves looked. The gps was in the glove box and we hadn't locked it - we will next time!

They thoroughly went through the console, glove box and all four seat storage pockets, scattering the contents far and wide. They did not appear to be interested in anything else. So the lesson to learn is not to hide important stuff in those places. My handbag was also in the car, complete with a wallet, cash and credit cards. But it was well hidden in a large plastic bag placed into another bag that contains our wet weather clothing - I think that was a good move. They also did not get my laptop, which was covered by a jumper (but probably should have been hidden even better).

I think once they find a few "valuable" things they are likely to move on. We are gathering together old credit cards, loyalty cards etc. and going to put them along with a small amount of cash into an old wallet and leave that in the console, along with an old phone. Maybe if they find those they will move on?

The keys caused some grief as we presume the thieves thought they were house keys. They had our ID and address from the wallet and I suspect that if we had been close to home they would have headed there next. Fortunately we were a long way away (and they keys belonged to our camper trailer).

Here is another thing to think about. They got Phil's wallet and his credit cards but as they are joint accounts the bank cancelled both of our accounts. If you operate your accounts like this I would recommend going to an ATM as soon as possible and withdrawing some cash. Some of the banks we had cards with have taken many weeks to get new cards to us. Incidentally, we also had some cash hidden in our camper just in case.

And here are a couple of useful things I learned from the police officer. Every phone has a unique IMEI number. This number makes it easier for the police to track down the culprits. You can find this number by dialing *#06# on your phone. Do it now and record it somewhere safe. You can also type "Find my Phone" into Google and sign in to your Google Account - if the phone has been turned on by the thieves Google will let you know where it is. Handy to know but didn't help us as the phone has been switched off since it was stolen.

Anyway, I've parked cars at the end of thousands of deserted tracks over many years and this is the first time this has happened. So most people are honest!

Travel safely ...... Monica

Reader Feedback

Kate from Sydney wrote in with a list of tips for those currently planning a trip:

Just a quick email to say thank you for the invaluable assistance of your guidebook on our Kimberley's trip August 2017.
I travelled part way with my Partner and part way with a larger group including my two kids aged 9 and 11.
We started in Broome and finished in Darwin. Three weeks.

A few tips for those planning:
  • Don't miss Cape Leveque and the Dampier, what an amazing place.
  • The Gibb was very bumpy and we found that about 100-150km per day was max travel time or it gets a bit weary.
  • Flat tyres on the Gibb cost $620 for repeat!!!! Yes they take cards and have eftpos.
  • Many people stopped to offer help with our vehicle. Lovely community spirit.
  • We thought Home Valley was much nicer and less touristy than El Questro.
  • Don't miss Bell Gorge. Spend a day and have a picnic. Just beautiful.
Happy travels everyone!
Kate, Sydney

Ron from Amsterdam is writing in response to the message from Jon and Kay in the last newsletter:

Hallo Birgit,
We always read your newsletter with a lot of attention and pleasure, thank you for all that work in it!
But this time I will respond to the letter from John & Kay Bills, about the text: "Many of the overseas tourists have probably not seen a dirt road let alone driven on one."

We travelled in 2010-2017, 4 times between 2 and 5 months, through your beautiful country and did more than 100,000 km all up, mostly in the outback.
Every time we had a broken window and every time it was through the high speed of a car or road train going the opposite way. In case of the car I think it was an Australian driver and not a tourist.

I think I can say that I can drive in very rough terrain in a responsible way.
My advice is: when I see someone coming the opposite way I slow down and if possible, especially in the case of road trains, I stop on the site of the road with the nose of the car in the direction of the landscape, so there is smaller chance that a stone hits the window directly in the front.

This year we will come again to Australia from Sep till Feb 2019 and hope that we have again a beautiful trip for our memory, and maybe this time without a broken window :).
With kind regards Joy & Ron

I have to say, I agree with Ron.
While most overseas tourists may have little experience on dirt roads, they also do not usually drive like hooligans. (There are of course exceptions.)

And while most experienced people drive very responsibly, not everyone does. (It is usually those with a lot of experience on dirt roads who are comfortable driving much faster.)

Most people do the right thing, exceptions can be found on both sides.

The problem is unlikely to ever disappear, but maybe this advice can prevent a few cracked windscreens.

I Will Be Away April 13 - May 6!

That's right. I t turns out that I will be away - and likely totally without internet and phone reception! - for three weeks. I am leaving very early on April 13 and returning on May 6.

This has caused me some sleepless nights, until I remembered Amit.

Long time readers may remember him. Amit had worked for me in the past, ensuring customer service was always prompt and courteous, in the years when I was too ill to do any work myself.

I am very glad that he has agreed to help out once more, so you can rest assured that you will get help should you run into any problems with a purchase, lose your guide or your download link, or similar.

It is, however, absolutely essential that during that time you use the contact page for any requests or enquiries! (And if you need a fresh download link, follow the instructions!)

I do ask my readers in any and all of my materials (including the top and bottom of this newsletter) to only use my contact page to get in touch.

This is one of the reasons. Anything that comes through the contact page can be easily re-routed when needed.

This is not possible if you just hit reply to a newsletter or use the address in an old download email, an old PayPal receipt etc.

Please, especially between April 13 and May 6, only use the contact page.

Amit is not a Kimberley/NT specialist so he won't be able to assist with the many other questions you like to send me.
Sorry that I won't be able to respond to those or your feedback until I get back.

There will be at least one more newsletter before I leave, and one asap when I get back.
I am hoping that the vast majority of you won't even notice that I am away and that time between newsletter is a little longer than in recent months :).

A last little reminder:
As I let you know in the last newsletter, the prices for Destination Guides will be increasing on April 1.
(More details in the last issue.)
If you are thinking of getting one or several, do so before then.

And that's it for today.

I want to close with a little note I received from Jill in the UK.
May we all be able to meet life's little obstacles with such a beautifully wry sense of humour:

I love receiving your bulletins and am fascinated by the description of this year's wet!  I was particularly fascinated by footage of the sea at Cable Beach, at the exact spot where I swam in September!

We were delighted to take a trip from Broome to Darwin last September - we have now visited all the regions of Australia - but I have to confess it was by an AAT Kings coach trip (well, we are getting on a bit!) , although I couldn't recommend them highly enough for giving us a real flavour of the area.
Our trip was just about all-inclusive, and we were given two vouchers for wine, etc. every evening.

At one of our stops, I asked for a gin and tonic to use one of my vouchers.  The barman started off with a half-pint beer mug full of ice, so I had to put him right on that.
Then he measured a shot of gin which looked a bit small to me, so I asked him to put another shot in, courtesy of my other voucher.  By this time, the boss lady arrived and said I could only have one at a time.
OK, I thought, I'll have the other one later.
The barman then produced a large, already opened, bottle of tonic and attempted to drown my small shot of gin!  I remonstrated, and boss lady said I had to have the tonic up to a certain level!

I tried, unsuccessfully, to understand the logic here - after all, the amount of gin is what matters, not the amount of tonic - and also explained that I was 70, not 17 and used to alcohol, but she said that was the law!
The experience greatly enhanced my holiday!

Thank you for including me,

Talk again soon!

Destination Kimberley, Destination Top End and Destination Red Centre have all the information you need to put together your dream trip.

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