On Wednesday I headed north from Millstream-Chichester, back to the highway and civilisation. I stopped in Karratha, home to the biggest shopping centre outside Perth (which only goes to show how empty the rest of Western Australia is), where I knuckled down to shop for my forthcoming Pilbara bushwalk. Unfortunately I couldn't get my lamp fixed, but everything else fell into place, and after spending a small fortune on food, bush gear and various other bits and bobs, I drove east of Karratha to Cleaverville Beach.
Cleaverville Beach is a free camping area on the dunes between Roebourne and Karratha, and it's a great spot (though the beach is rock, not sand, so it's a bit sharp on the feet). I went searching for a site, but it wasn't long before I'd got myself in a bit of a jam. The rear wheels had got themselves stuck in the sand, and as my Toyota is rear wheel drive, I just dug myself deeper and deeper, until the back end was sitting on the ground. This was not a good thing.
The first bloke I asked for help was just rude to me, so I ignored him – he's the first really mean-spirited Aussie I've met – and wandered off to the next caravan, where a very kind man came and helped me out. He started off by getting out his 'bull bag', an inflatable bag that attaches to the exhaust pipe; you put the bag under the car, start the engine, and hey presto! The car gets jacked up. This, however, didn't work, as no matter how much we shovelled sand under the rear wheels, they just dug straight down again when I tried to drive.
Thank goodness he had a four-wheel drive. We attached a rope to my rear axle, and he dragged me back onto hard ground: what a champion! To avoid a repeat performance, I headed back down the road to find a harder site just off the dirt. I set up camp just as a big black snake slithered right across the spot I'd picked for my tent, and settled in. Just as in Cape Range the sky was gorgeous, the flies were hungry, civilisation was miles away, and all this was completely free, so I lit a fire – isn't it good, Australian wood? – and watched the stars twinkle as the ashes glowed in the hearth.
I stayed at Cleaverville for a few nights, collecting more wood from the hillocks behind the dunes for a nightly fire, more for the cosy feeling of a hearth than for the heat, as the nights had lost most of the bite they'd had in Karijini. Besides, it kept the damn flies and mozzies away, something worth appreciating after a whole day of flies crawling in your mouth, nose, ears and – worst of all – your cup of tea. I listened to the ABC's Radio National – the only really national radio service, which is a bit like Radio Four but with shorter programmes and more news – and read plenty.
But all good things must come to an end, and on Saturday I drove back to Karratha, booked in to the local caravan park to get clean – the sea might be a handy bath, but my last shower proper was in Tom Price when the car broke down, well over a week ago – and started getting ready for my first real bushwalk.