We’re finally back in Kununurra after just over 4 weeks of not having internet access whilst we travelled the Gibb River Road. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll dedicate multiple posts to the Gibb River Road section as we know many want to know all the juicy details of this part of our trip! Here’s the first post which covers week 1 of our adventure:
Finally it was time to leave for our Gibb River Road adventures as we’d been waiting for this day for so long. There was excitement in the air as we did our final pack up of the van and loaded the car for what was going to be a 4-5 week adventure travelling to the Bungles, Geikie Gorge, up to Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek, and then the “real adventure” of the Gibb River Road.
Not wanting to risk taking our van on the Gibb River Road, it was with a little heavy heart that we left our van at Zebra Rock among the mango plantation to have a “holiday” for the time that we would be away. Our plan was to sleep in the Oztent for this adventure – the question is, could we last ALL that time sleeping 20mm off the ground on self inflating mattresses!!??? More to follow!!! (Note – 2018 – Zebra Rock no longer offer a caravan babysitting service)
Day 1 – Leaving Kununurra mid morning fully packed (yes, we really mean FULLY packed, poor Pajero), we headed towards the Bungles. Knowing the road from the highway to the campgrounds in the National Park was not in the best condition, we decided to stay at Mabel Downs Station’s new caravan park (if you can call it that) which is only about 4kms off the main highway heading in towards the Bungles. Pitching the tent for the first time on this trip, we found ourselves setting up on red dirt. Not an ounce of green grass was to be seen anywhere in the “park”, and as we were using the generator for our 2 Engels (fridge and freezer), we had to camp away from others, which suited us ok. The facilities when we visited here were quite average, but haven’t visited since (2014).
Day 2 – We did a day trip out to the Bungles, taking 2.5 hours to travel the 40kms with numerous water crossings, and here we were to find that not all attractions in the park were open due to the big wet. (This was a term we heard very frequently throughout the 5 weeks!) The “beehives” as they’re called, are sandstone domes, and pretty well appear out of the middle of nowhere. Anyway, arriving at the car park, we first set out for Cathedral Gorge which has incredible acoustics, on the way passing many of the beehives and admiring the colours of the rock as the afternoon sun makes them glow deeper in colour. Arriving at the gorge, we ate our lunch whilst sitting on a rock which was a great way to soak up the atmosphere, marvel at the magnificent 80m gorge walls surrounding us on three sides, and enjoy a 5-10º drop in temperature in the gorge! Continuing on, we walked up Piccaninny Creek (which funnily enough had no water), and went to the Piccaninny Creek lookout to admire heaps of the beehives all around us. Spending the majority of the day in the park, we then returned the 2.5 hours back to the tent for our second night in the tent (so far so good :-))
Day 3 – saw us packing up and driving to Fitzroy Crossing. Great having a 30 second tent to set up, but packing up was another story! It was at this point that we were already asking ourselves the question, “how did we fit the contents of a 21″ van into the Paj!!, and how come we can’t get it back in the same way???” (This seemed to be a standard joke during the trip!)
Finding a site at Fitzroy Lodge, we set up camp and enjoyed beer o’clock around 3.00pm which probably sounds early, but as it gets dark here just after 5pm you might as well make the most of the daylight! Whilst at Fitzroy Crossing, we took a drive out to the infamous Fitzroy Crossing Inn, and spent some time at the original river crossing (these days it’s much easier just to use the bridge).
Day 4 – We started off the day with an early morning tour cruising Geikie Gorge. It was here where we spotted heaps of freshwater crocodiles basking in the morning sun, and just admired the towering limestone walls of the gorge as we took the 1 hour cruise. This tour proved to be very popular with nearly 70 people up early for the tour – and there was still another three tours scheduled during the day which shows just how popular this tour is.
Day 5 – now we’re talking – time to drop the tyre pressures, get off the black top and hit the dirt, as we turn onto the Fairfield-Leopold road and head to Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge. The road had only been open around a week to high clearance 4wd’s when we drove in and was pretty corrugated, so imagine our surprise when we see an old Ford stationwagon in front of us sitting on about 40kms/hour trying to negotiate the corrugations, numerous washouts and creek crossings. Arriving at Tunnel Creek we found the car park extremely busy, so we continued to Windjana Gorge to set up camp and come back to Tunnel Creek early the following day to beat the traffic. The campground in Windjana Gorge National Park was well laid out; it even had showers and toilets (a bit flash!)
After some lunch and setting up camp (now starting to time ourselves as to how long it takes because it’s always about improvement!), it was on with the sneakers and backpacks and we walked into the famous gorge. Walking through a small opening in the cliff walls to reach the gorge, we were greeted with an amazing sight. A beautiful gorge lined with vegetation on both sides; it had lots of water filled with heaps of freshwater crocs, and an abundance of singing birds. There was something special about this place. (Later reading about the history of Windjana Gorge revealed some very sad happenings here in the late 1890s for the local indigenous people of the time, the Bunuba tribe).
Day 6 – A quick breakfast and off we went to Tunnel Creek. Wanting to beat the rush, we arrived to find only one other car load ahead of us in the tunnel. Being fascinated by Australian history, I always try to research the areas we visit before arriving. So as much as the landscape around Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek is stunning, the history behind these places and surrounding areas is also important. Tunnel Creek, as is Windjana Gorge, is in the Napier Range, and is the result of a reef system from the Devonian period. The tunnel is around 750 metres in length, with the centre of the tunnel having collapsed allowing some light to penetrate this section. Depending on the wet season, the water inside the tunnel can range anywhere from ankle deep to above head height (as it was when I first visited in 1991). This trip saw the deepest section around waist height.
All of the Windjana Gorge/Tunnel Creek area was home to the Aboriginal Bunuba tribe before white settlement, but it sadly is also famous for where some of the bloodiest conflicts in WA’s history occurred, as the Bunuba people were forced out of the area to make way for sheep and cattle pastoralists.
With our shoes on and dolphin torch in hand, we clambered over the rocks at the southern entrance into the tunnel. Walking through knee deep water, we further made our way deep into the tunnel walking single file as we knew there were drop offs and debris which we didn’t fancy falling into with camera gear on. For fun Grant turned off the torch….boy was it dark! (If only he knew this tunnel was also home to freshwater crocs and bats…I told him after we’d left)! Reaching the centre section, it was great to see some light and take some pictures before continuing on. The second half of the tunnel was deeper than the first, so we needed to cris-cross the tunnel trying to find the shallowest route. It was only in the very last section where we saw the group ahead of us coming back and explain that it was around waist height. Lifting the camera gear high, we again in single file made our way through the water (cold) and could now see “light at the end of the tunnel”!!! Upon reaching the end we went outside by the creek, sat on some rocks, and just took it all in. It was a very special place for us and a highlight of the trip.
Heading back to our Windjana Gorge camp, we stopped to look at the Lillimooloora ruins. Originally a station homestead for the first white pastoralists to the area, it then became a police station to assist in the reduction of indigenous resistance in the area to the pastoralists. It failed dismally for many years in achieving this objective, but as mentioned previously, many bloody conflicts also occurred here. It was a little sad visiting here knowing the history of the place – the police station has nearly all but fallen down, and nature has reclaimed most of the surrounding landscape, hiding any evidence of those horrible events of days gone by.
Day 7 – time to pack up (again) and make our way to the Gibb River Road (yippee Grant said). We quickly realise that the novelty of tenting is being shortlived and it’s only Day 7! Setting up camp is pretty quick (around 25 minutes), but packing up??? Almost 2 hours! Yep, by the time we pack up all the bedding and cooking equipment (and somehow get it back in the car!!), then pack the tent and get it on the roof rack, we easily were just taking under 2 hours! Ok, enough whining. We’re hoping at this point that it will get better!!
Join us in our next post as we start our trek on the Gibb River Road – we visit some of the famous stations, enjoy some spectacular gorges and waterfalls, give the Paj a workout through some of the rough side tracks and numerous river crossings, and truly soak up every ounce of Kimberley magic the place has to offer!
Grant & Linda.
|Kms Travelled Total 17,023