80 Mile Beach

Last morning in Broome proved busy despite having packed up most of our camp the afternoon previous.  We still had to check the mail, pick up the new transducer for the Depth Sounder as well as the new alloy GPS bracket which I had arranged to be fabricated locally.  We also got last minute jitters about our next stop at Port Smith which is dry - so we bought another box of beer and some cask wine - just in case.

We drove down to Port Smith in less than two hours (150kms).  The 'Port' is actually a shallow inverted T-shaped salt water lagoon which offers year round safe and reasonably easy access to the sea as well as previously providing a 'port' for the delivery of goods to the surrounding stations and missions.  Up until 20 odd years the  Lagoon was used as a base by Jack Morgan one of the early pearlers but after his pearl shell got some disease he moved his operations down to the Montebello Islands off Karratha where he made a fortune and has since died.  His 6 acre Lagoon HQ and infrastructure was bought by a chap who today runs a quite impressive exotic bird park around a veritable tropical oasis of palms and other tropical plants.  This same fellow , a few years later, persuaded the mission authorities from La Grange to let him establish a caravan park in some land nearby.

Unfortunately, we booked Port Smith for a week coinciding with 8m+  spring tides which means access to the lagoon has to be negotiated over a one kilometre wide salt pan which twice daily goes under water.  The Lagoon almost empties during the lows on these spring tides.  A very sticky exercise and one which should be avoided by checking the tide charts before booking. While the salt pan has a very firm base and can be driven on quite readily - the  practicalities of having to carefully hose down one's vehicle after every crossing become quite tiresome in the camp which has only minimum bore water pressure (it dribbles out of the hose rather than spurts).

The Way In

Crossing Salt Pan at Low Tide

A Little Further Across

On to the Sand Bar in the Lagoon

Lagoon at Low Tide

Salt Pan (local swimming hole) at High Tide

Approach to Salt Pan at low tide

Same appoach at High Tide

I brazenly suggested to one of he Managers one day that they dedicate one of the their many vehicles as a launch and retrieval vehicle during Spring Tide access an even charge punters for the use.  However, he simply replied that they didn't have the time to spend on such niceties and that no one has ever complained before - so much for me being a know all.

Nevertheless, the Lagoon is very popular with tourists a well as locals from Broome who regularly come down on weekends and fish the abundant shallow reefs just outside the Lagoon.  I met a guy this morning who advised me that it was only a 60 NM sea trip around from Broome and many with larger boats do it that way...Reminds one  of Dundee visits.  We have been told that the camping ground is regularly booked out in June and July but at present it would be lucky to have 10 of its 100 or so sites occupied.  The store is adequate and also sells ice, bait, fishing gear and fuel ($1.42) - this is still not too bad considering the record so far is Derby at $1.45.  The (100 odd) powered camp sites are quite large being in excess of 10mx12m - easy enough for those travelling with boats.  In addition to the camp sites, the Park boasts 3 x self-contained cabins, each catering for 6 persons at $130/night, single fishermens' Dongas and a 9 hole "Challenge" Golf Course.  To complete the facilities the management have supplied an ancient wood-fired copper to cook your mud crabs - Hows that?

The Loaf

The Hire Boats (25HP motors)

The Large Camp Site

One of the Self Contained (6 Berth) Cabins

'Home' at Port Smith

'The Vines' at Port Smith

The Copper for cooking Mud Crabs

Sand Scrapes and Par 130m

Since arriving here, I realise that I should have brought my Throw/Cast Net for live bait purposes.  I think I'll buy one in Port Hedland.  I should also have brought along a few Dilly Pots for mud crabs as my new 'set' pots are illegal in WA as is the spearing of muddies.  Hooks are OK.  Viva la difference, Eh?

We attacked the lagoon the day after arrival and caught a couple of juvenile  cod and Spanish Flag.  While the visibility in the water is that good in the sandy lagoon (up to nearly 4m) that you could see Threadfin Salmon swimming past the boat they were simply not interested in our squid and later Flag bait.  However, some chaps camped nearby, fishing just off the Lagoon's sandbar  collected well over 20 nice Whiting.  The next day we headed out of the Lagoon into the open sea and as luck would have it the wind would not permit us to safely negotiate our first Weigh point some 8NM from the mouth.  The boat is really not suited to offshore work unless there are extremely favourable conditions.  This is reinforced by the isolation of the region - there are usually no other boats out fishing to provide assistance, if needed. Instead we fished the inshore reefs around Cape Latouche Treville and got a mixed bag of reef fish but no real size.  Sounder and GPS both now working satisfactorily.

Maria in the Lagoon

The Helmsman holds a dodgy course

Helmsman quietly confident of immenent strike

First Blood!

And Again

Worried Helmsman


  A group of Aboriginals from the nearby La grange (Bidyadanga) Community who had hired one of the caravan park's dinghies  caught a monster Bluebone (highly prized over here in the West).  Fishing is good here but the tides do not suit our set-up.  Nevertheless, we had our first locally caught fish meal that night - very nice it was too.  The high tides also stir up the midges at dusk.  However, the Bushman's repellent appears to have got their measure cf other more popular brands.

Celebrated the previous day's fishing success by baking our first loaf of bread since we've been away just so as we remember the basics for when we head off the beaten track a bit later on. The successful loaf was in stark contrast to the corned beef we attempted to cook in the Turbo Oven the evening before.  We chose to ignore the Turbo's own  recipe and instead cooked it the same as you would do in a conventional oven - does not work as the top-generated heat  does not effectively penetrate the liquid in the glass 'oven' bowl!!

Just up the road from the Park is access to Gourdon Bay which offers superb isolated swimming and views of the predominantly limestone cliffed coastline around here. We have joyously tested the swimming several times over the past couple of days.  I forgot to mention in the last chapter, that Maria, forever fussy about bathers, was able to buy a very fetching pair together with matching loose blouse for about $45 in Broome's Target store after paying well over $100 for a pair that never really fitted properly from some trendy Beachwear shop in Parap.  However, she soon discovered an even cheaper pair out here in the WA wilderness.  

Crabs at Work on Beach

JWB at play

MHB at Play in her very cheap bathers together with her new swimming aid

View of our private Swimming Beach

Another view of Gourdon Bay

In for another dip

JWB tries out the new life saving aid

Maria received some surprise albeit welcome calls from the children on Mothers Day.  However, the reception on our CDMA was lousy as its on the outer fringe of its network coverage. However we were able to ring them back on the public phones here at the Park.  Port Smith also boasts a Bird Sanctuary which was built here some 25 years ago - we'll pay it a visit before leaving.

We've noticed a definite cooling  off of the evening temperatures and the pedestal fan has had to be turned down a notch.  Whereas the bloody Airconditioner has been unceremoniously relegated to a permanent travelling berth in the boat and the heavy bugger may end up being jettisoned all together .

We tried our hand a catching some Whiting during a very fast incoming 8.4m tide off  the sand bar  one morning.  Used our new Barra rods with tiny  lead shot weight, No 2 hooks complete with tiny prawn baits (that OK Terry??) - result nil despite the blighters swimming almost between our legs.  Oh yes - and I caught a monster 'birds nest' in my new Abu reel which Maria kindly sorted after an hour's close attention!.  One more excuse for our poor fishing performance is that every time one stands in the Lagoon to launch some dead bait into the placid waters, one is attacked around the legs by a swarm of bait fish - what hope against that competition?

At this stage I am unsure when or where I will get an opportunity to publish these new pages- maybe in Port Hedland.  Whilst visiting the Telecentre in Broome the Manager there very kindly enquired whether my laptop had wireless (?Wifi) access capability as the centre was a 'hotspot'.  I replied that I had bought a D-Link Wireless  Cardbus Adaptor but,  as Darwin had few if any publicly available 'hotspots', I had never installed it.  He then showed me how to install it and I  was then able to sit there with my Laptop sans landline and connect to the internet and publish my Broome chapter.  It only cost $3 for 30 minutes - much cheaper than standard Internet Cafe charges.  I felt very smug about this recently acquired nerdy skill, only to have my enthusiasm dashed by the news that very few other WA Govt Telecentres offer similar services.  Looks like checking into a motel room for an hour after all.

Whilst speaking of techno things, I can report that the only  feedback I have received on these pages to date has been from brother Christopher who suggested I adopt 'thumbnails' as my default method of presenting photographs.  This I have done but now daughter Amy says the resultant thumbnails are too small to do justice to the snaps concerned.  Well, as I explained, the snaps are transferred from the camera to the computer at  about 600-800KBs each but that, after compression, end up between 20-50 KBs.  They can then only take so much enlargement before atomising into pixel land.  Anyhow, this time around I have slightly enlarged the thumbnail  format for both the previous Broome snaps and the 80 Mile Beach snaps - see how these  look.

Feedback is good - so keep it coming.

We waited at Port Smith for a mail delivery via Broome - which turned up the monthly ColesMyer statement we had been sweating on.  We've decided to basically travel around using the one card for all fuel and provision expenses and pay the account off every month via electronic transfer from our BankSA account.  BankSA is only present in WA in Perth- very handy and will be similar in Tas and Qld.

We got underway at about 1000 hours and drove the next 200kms to the Eighty Mile Caravan Park through very boring flat Spinifex and salt bush country.  Only road kill to be seen was the odd roo.  The short tip was broken by a reluctant stop at Sandfire Roadhouse  (presumably named after the lurid colour of the surrounding sand hills at sunset).  This place is run by quite a rude manager who phantom-like pops up behind your fuel bowser demanding money before one has had a chance to secure the fuel cap.

The Eighty Mile caravan park has been excised and is run from from Wallal Downs Station.  Historically the area was, during the late19th C.,  an important pearling centre catering to luggers from Cossack in the South to Broome in the North.  Today, it exists simply to provide travellers with access to the beach which is otherwise blocked by most pastoralists.  The beach itself extends out of sight in both Northerly and Southerly directions.  At low tide its 200m wide and heaven for shell collectors and at high tide its famous for its beach fishing for mainly Threadfin Salmon. Being also roughly half way between Broome and Port Hedland it also attracts alot of overnight travellers.  But the mainstay seems to be pensioner couples who while away the time shell collecting and fishing - so we followed suit.

The Beach at Low Tide

Early Morning


Shelly Beach

Shelly Beaches as far as the eye can see

Surely an irreverent Day Tripper - wots the answer?

When-In-Rome, do as ............

Respect for the local tides!

The park is 10 kms off the Highway along average corrugations about which, some towing vans, complain loudly.  The park's 200 odd sites have plenty of shade provided by rows of Casuarinas and (?) Fiddlewood trees.  The store stocks all the basic food, fishing and caravan spare parts.  Its novelty is the inclusion of a coin-operated internet station which proved painfully slow and expensive for everything other than email.  Nevertheless it was able to spit out the odd missive from Ben, Gil and Penguin.

Regimented & Calm

Plenty of Sites available for the Weary Traveller

We alwas seemed to lack neighbours

Gone Feral in the Beer stakes (on special in Broome at $24/Block)

Not to be Outdone - MHB shows off her superior Muti-Grain loaf

Maria's Shell Collection in readiness for her new Jobstart initiative (I helped pick up a few of the blighters myself)

Sunset over the 80 Mile Beach Mk I

Sunset over the 80 Mile Beach MkII

The fishing threatened to be a disaster again until I found someone's 'lost gang-hooked rig' in the sand while shell collecting.  It worked a treat the next day and we caught 5 salmon - piddling against the bucket-full tallies produced by the old fellows  with their 4m rods and Alveys or cheaper 'egg beater' reels.  There is no bag limit or minimum or maximum size limits on this species and so at every high tide you see a line of 50 or so anglers lining the waters edge and casting away furiously with their oversized wands with the pesky pilchard segments peppering the sea and adjacent beaches - the crowds of appreciative seagulls looking on have a magnificent feast.  Another highlight of this beach-combing is that it can all be undertaken in the comfort of your late model Toyota Landcruiser or Nissan Patrol, as you are permitted to roar along the beach in search of  a favourable stretch of beach from which to attack the slimy salmon. An astonishing site one morning was to see a Black Swan swimming and ?fishing in the shallow waters just off the beach.  The next day the Swan was replace by a Pelican.

This is what the travellers come to do

Even their dogs

We get ready to join in sans appropriate gear - we hid at an isolated spot where our lack of 4m wand and Alvey would not be noticed

Epitome of self-conscious concentration

Maria leans into a fine specimen

Told you so and all with an Ugly Stick and Abu combo (wouldn't tell the local salts)

Lights, Camera & Action

Well, it felt alot bigger!

The Pro's at the serious end of the day's play

They caught bucket loads which were all intended for their masters' Engels nd Waecos

How about this Jewie who fell foul to one of the old salt's tried an true Alvey rig - a definite stranger on the filleting table.

Fish Filleter and Friends on a windy 80 Mile Beach

This sort of place definitely attracts grey nomads who, while escaping southern winter  weather, are able to relax, do the odd spot of  fishing, fill their freezers and move on up to Broome to sit and swim in the sun.  As annual trekkers, they do not make great tourists but would nevertheless contribute a lot to regional economies through their purchase of daily provisions, fuel, vehicle repairs and maintenance.  Interestingly, the ones you meet are agreed that their numbers are well down this year - presumably due to the current price of fuel.  However, we were amazed by the almost constant stream of caravans heading North as we doggedly defied the norm; by heading South. 

Elderly caravaners far out number the younger holiday makers in their hired and or privately owned 4x4 campers and camper trailers who generally only spend one or two days at a location.  Apart from some home-made models we have yet to see another Slide-on on the road.  However, fellow campers who can't resist a peak, are amazed at its internal capacity and envious of the two door fridge/freezer.  We reckon the freezer can hold 10+ days' meals of meat, fish (salmon), bacon, tortellini type pasta dishes, green beans and I am trying to squeeze in a brick of ice cream if I can find one the right shape.  We also freeze sliced bread when we have to buy it.  Frozen bread in this camp costs $4.50 a loaf and that's why we've been baking our own. However, we have not got the space to store frozen bulk meals eg spaghetti Bolognese sauce, casseroles etc.

One of the few things I regret jettisoning back in Kununurra were our two main cookery references (Charmaine Solomon and The Cook's Companion) - sorry ladies you were just too heavy.  This situation has led to many inspired concoctions with the odd ad hoc ingredient thrown in. Last night's veal scaloppini was a case in point.  We also miss some basic cooking implements eg a meat tenderiser - the whole camp would have heard me last night murdering a couple of veal steaks on the tray of the ute using our  4lb hammer!

Our stay at the 80 Mile Beach was marked by two seminal events:

  1. breaking out the blankets and electing to have hot showers; and
  2.  washing the camper for the first time.....this may have been a complete waste of time given that we're about to head inland for a couple of weeks, to explore the Pilbara

Our trip to Port Hedland saw the low acacia scrub country slowly give way to those red mesas of iron for which the Pilbara is synonymous.   We go to Port Hedland primarily to prepare and provision for our inland bush trip around the Pilbara and its national parks.

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