From Shark Bay to dry Lake Indoon
From Shark Bay to the dry Lake Indoon
With Friendly Billabong Roadhouse in between
Sal Darago was moving slowly away from her mooring and turning north towards Carnarvon as we left Australia’s western most publicly accessible town the next morning, our meeting a success of exchanged news and shared plans. I have included three pictures of the old buildings along the waterfront in Denham as being typical of how the town once looked before the burgeoning of tourism in the area. Around 110,000 visitors each year are seeking the dolphin experience at Monkey Mia and a seaside holiday of fishing, boating and beach combing.
Royal Navy Captain Henry Mangles Denham charted the area in 1858 but four years previous to that Lieutenant Helpman discovered extensive beds of pearl-shell oysters, so the town started as a pearling camp called Freshwater Camp. We liked the feel of the place and it was much warmer than the York Peninsula and Exmouth which are fully exposed to the chill from the Indian Ocean off the NW coast.
So back towards the North West Coastal Highway, stretching 808 miles from Port Hedland to Geraldton and we would be travelling the whole length. The highway was created immediately after the Second World War from existing roads and pastoral tracks and was moved inland between Carnarvon and Port Hedland in the years between 1966 and 1973 because of the regular and expensive damage caused by cyclones hitting the NW coast.
The highway passes through the Pilbara region and sealing it became essential to accommodate the growing volume of traffic from pastoralism, tourism and the extraction and export of iron ore. So it is no coincidence that with the improvement of the Highway into an all year route by the 1960’s roadhouses were built along its length to cater for all the needs of travellers and we visited the Billabong Roadhouse which was established in 1962.
They are now very much a part of the travel culture in this part of the world and ‘ours’ deserves a mention. The genuine smiling welcome from all three of the staff on duty was pleasant to start with and the range of ready to eat food they had on sale was as good as Woolworths or Waitrose back home and it included fresh fruit salad that we had not seen at any other roadhouse. We were in Darwin when we last noticed Kangaroo Scrotum, Roo Claws and Saltwater Crocodile heads, complete with export licences, on sale as tourist items and I wondered why people would buy such things. The pink boxer roo was tempting but we were going to have a bulging car full when we returned to Zoonie anyway, so I wasn’t going to add any more. The young lady took the picture of us in front of a wall of photos showing visitors tattoos and we bought coffee and two recommended raspberry muffins that were really good.
Back on the road we were driving into the north western tip of the Wheatbelt of WA and the pretty yellow flowering trees that lined the highway were backed with arable fields of rape (canola= Canada Oil) and barley. Crossing the Galena Bridge over the Murchison River brought us to our outermost point we reached with Wokka and the gang of keen youngsters. We were lucky, thanks to Malcolm and Christine, to be able to get this far and see all we had seen and I wondered if any of our young travelling companions would one day return to resume their adventure.
A short distance south of Geraldton, having passed olive groves, historic settlements, dog kennels, flat paddocks of sheep, glossy black Angus cattle and crops, horse farms, more dry rivers, a big goat farm and homesteads built from adobe bricks, we turned onto the Indian Ocean Drive that hugs the coast down to Perth and were glad to get away from the volume traffic that was slowing us down to 80kph. We weren’t used to lots of traffic!
Rob was flicking through the pages of our road map to find somewhere to stay for our last night of camping, (I wonder when we will use our dear little tent again) when he discovered brief comments to the effect ’23 May 2017, very picturesque’ over number 332 Lake Indoon, which was between the Indian Ocean Drive and the Brand Highway 1; so that was decided.
There were a couple of discretely placed camper vans tucked into their own corners when we arrived to find not a drop of water in the vast and almost perfectly round lake. We pitched tent and went for a walk. Back in the thirties the lake was dry for a few years, so I optimistically hoped that sometime in the near or distant future folk would again enjoy whizzing around the flat water surface on skis, in the right direction of course.
We started our walk around the shore with its rim of tasty samphire looking greenery and then decided to walk right across. There were footprints and tyre tracks everywhere so we were hopeful we would not slip unnoticed into a mire of mud or quicksand, never to be seen again. Sunglasses, lost overboard from a boat and the sinker to a lost mooring buoy painted the picture of fun times past. Today, and partly because it is winter time, there were just a few of us braving what would be a chilly night in this lovely spot nestled in the Beekeepers’ Nature Reserve.
The next morning, our last in camp and so to be savoured, we lay in our snug bags knowing that the sun would warm us shortly and listening to the variety of birdsong. We chatted to a couple of fellow campers, one was there with his poorly wife taking a significant trip back to a favourite spot and another could not remember when there was last water in the lake. That was red rag to a bull for me and I have since read reviews about the lake that suggest it has been empty for at least two years.
Tyres on tarmac once again and excited were we at the prospect of seeing Mel at the Perth Youth Hostel, where we had booked in for two nights of nostalgia and a farewell to this part of Aussie. She was not in the office until Saturday, the next day, so off we went in hot pursuit of a decent beer at The Island Pub on Elizabeth Quay, one of our ‘locals’.