Saturday, May 9, 2009

Postcards from Cape Leveque, a place of surprises

We've just got back from Cape Leveque and are enjoying a sneak preview of 'Staircase to the Moon'. Cape Leveque was a sensational place to spend a few days and if we'd taken more provisions and hadn't been booked back in Roebuck Bay caravan park tonight we'd probably have stayed a little longer. That said, the park here is now packed as it offers a gun view over the bay for the lunar phenomenon so we might have struggled to get a spot.

Half of the road up to Cape Leveque from Broome was unsealed and sandy which seemed to deter most people without 4WD, so there are no pesky Wicked Campers crowding the place out. We're hoping the same will apply to the Gibb River Road.

Cape Leveque is one of the few places we've stopped at where you can watch the sun rise and set over sea. And there were plenty of other pleasant surprises in store.

We found a beautiful shady spot away from the cliff top next to Mark and Jen. Jen was busy waxing her legs as we pulled up but didn't seem too phased and immediately struck up a conversation. A conversation that continued, broken only by sleep, until we left this morning. They had recently spent time on Elcho Island off Arnhem Land working as nurses within the remote aboriginal community. Plenty of stories in there and it was fascinating hearing about the intervention.

* The local Bardi calendar. We were here for the King Tides and also the traditional time for moving camps down to the beach to avoid the influx of mosquitoes. We'd finally remembered to pick up some mossie coils and they seem to be doing the job.

The Kooljaman Resort is owned by the local aboriginal people and has won numerous eco tourism awards. As is typical with places like this, the accommodation rates vary from our budget ($16 per person per night), through to $250 per night for Safari tents, although they get to call on the 'Bush Butler' room service. And if you really can't face the road up, then the Coral Princess drops anchor at Cape Leveque for cocktail hour. Prices in peak time are around $9,000 for a 10 day tour. Helicopter rides are an optional, and expensive, extra.

Some shots from the Western, sunset, beach. Also the closing fishing beach from camp.

On our second day, I booked myself on a fishing tour with our neighbour Mark, and also Sam and Belinda from Gosford who were in Broome for a wedding.

It turned out that Dr Belinda is good mates with our good mates Russell and Paul from Dangar, as well as the infamous Dr Brad. I'd spent many late nights with Dr Brad during the six months he'd rented my place on the island while he was on secondment to Sydney with the rural fire service, which included drifting off each night to his amazing bird calls of Australia collection. What a small world.

I was hoping our skipper would be a local aboriginal fishing legend who'd teach me how to catch and gut fish, but it turned out that Wongy was a chef by trade and it was only his first season out on the boat. He was much better at catching fish than driving the boat and it was quite an adventure getting on and off. I suspect that the Normandy landings would not have gone quite so well if Wongy had been driving.

Belinda caught the most fish, Mark caught the only eatable fish (supplemented with a couple from Wongy), and I can't remember what was wrong with Sam's but at least he caught something. I hooked a shark and was immediately faced with the prospect of being a hero on the boat but being in serious trouble when I got back to Ness. After making a fairly alarming jump towards the boat, the shark thankfully bit through the line. We were both off the hook.

Luckily, and in spite of a desperately blunt knife, Mark had the fish cleaning skills to fillet the three fish we took off the boat, and shortly afterwards we were settled down for lovely lunch.

Next surprise was the Channel 7 Getaway crew, including Tom the Chippie, arrived for a film shoot, along with a sizeable chunk of the Australian Girls Choir and the National Boys Choir to film a new 'Still call Australia home' video for Qantas. The crew certainly left their impression on the resort, including bringing down a huge branch in the campsite when the driver reversed their 4wd coach through one of the trees.

Ness was too embarrassed to ask Tom for his autograph, but I did go over and grab a couple of shots while they were trying to film. You might hear the my shutter snaps over the audio when it hits the airwaves.

* Tom 'on camera' raving about the western beach to a local elder.

Yesterday, Mark & Jen kindly took us for a day trip in their Patrol to the aboriginal community at One Arm Point. While they enjoyed coffee and a chat in the Health Clinic, Ness and I trudged around in the midday sun to see the sights.

There's not much shade at One Arm Point, but it does offer some awesome views of the Buccaneer Archipelago which cuts across the entrance to King Sound which runs down to Derby.

At almost 12m, Derby has the second largest tidal range in the world. Thanks to the interweb we're able to check claims like that. When I looked it up, the River Severn also has the second largest tidal range, at 15m. Nevertheless, a 12m tide is pretty cool, with the water level falling or rising 2m per hour. You could see the current ripping through the islands.

* Sunrise over the eastern beach

After packing up camp we stopped at the Western Beach so I could have another fish. I'd caught a couple of very small fish the night before which Mark had kindly taken a snap of. Unfortunately he still had the camera in his pocket when an outsize wave came in, drenching us both. The camera was dead on arrival back at the camp.

I landed a couple of nice fish which someone further up the beach identified as Long Tom. They didn't look like good eating fish and had a massive set of sharp teeth.

I was a bit worried what sort of results I'd get when I put 'Long Tom' into Google (what with it being work internet and all, and having just completed a mandatory online harassment training module), but the initial identification had been correct. Turns out they're related to flying fish, and Garfish, and therefore if you can get past the green bones they are apparently five star eating. I also discovered that they're quite aggressive fish and have been known to attack anglers edging into the water to get a longer cast. Some things are better found out after the fact.

On our way back to Broome we stopped at Beagle Bay to check out the Catholic Church built by locals under the instruction of missionaries in the early 20th century. The first missionary was here in the late 1880s for five years without converting a single person. Apparently though he did create a good impression with the locals which laid solid foundations for the future. The locals made the church out of shells and it must have been a tough gig.

I've not been into a church for a while, especially a catholic one, and I don't suppose I will for a while, but it was worth the visit. The altar was especially beautiful, but it all looked particularly out of place out here. While we had low expectations after our Santa Theresa experience outside of Alice, we were both impressed by the tidiness of the communities we visited and the relative industry of the locals.

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