, Tunnel Creek and Geikie Gorge
are three of the best natural attractions in the Kimberley
. Found within the Napier Range
, a limestone range above the Fitzroy River
flood plain, these geological features are spectacular landmarks revealing ancient reef systems dating back to the Devonian period of 350 million years ago. Reached via the unsealed Fairfield-Leopold Downs Road, off the Gibb River Road
, these are highlights of the Kimberley
not to be missed.
Tunnel Creek flows through a water worn tunnel beneath the limestone of the Napier Range
. During the dry season, this day use area is enjoyed by visitors walking 750m through the tunnel to the other side of Napier Range
, wading through pools of water using torch light in the dark cave
for navigation and watching for bats and marvelling at stalactites that descend from the roof in many places
. Some aboriginal painting can also be spotted just inside the cave
entrance on the cave
Spectacular camping with toilets and showers, coupled with a 7km return walking trail along the course of the Lennard River makes Windjana Gorge National Park
an ideallyic spot
to setup base camp and enjoy the area. Access and camping fees apply.
How to Use this Trek Note
In this trek note, we provide Place to Place distances (see Directions tab), a downloadable plot file, and POI files to enable you to use this as your driving itinerary, or as a base guide to add other side trips. As with all ExplorOz Trek Notes
, you can reverse the order of the direction notes by clicking the arrow alongside the words Start/Finish at the very top of the information on this page.
To see the route, click on the Map tab. Then use the Moving Map Control to take a virtual tour of the route. You can also click on the "What to See & Do" & "Where to Stay" tabs to see more about each Place that the route follows. Click each listed item to open a separate page (and download) for each Place for further information to enrich your understanding of the area.
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(or all in one batch download) as POI/waypoint files to use in your GPS (all popular formats available).
The ancient Devonian reef of the Napier Range
forms a chain of limestone ranges, up to 300 metres above sea level, which rise from 40 to 150 metres above the surrounding Fitzroy River
floodplain. Boab trees often grow on the rocky hillsides. The formation of the present landscape occurred in two stages. The reef was uplifted above sea level 250 million years ago and then eroded, forming some caves in the limestone. The reef was then buried by younger sedimentary rocks. The whole area was uplifted and eroded 20 million years ago - the limestone forming the reef being more resistant to erosion than the softer overlying rocks, so that the ancient landscape was exposed. The reef now stands above the surrounding plains, in much the same way it would have stood above the sea floor 350 million years ago. Cross-sections through the reef can be seen in the walls of Windjana Gorge
. Fossil sponges, brachiopods, nautiloids and some stromatolites may be found in the slope deposits. Around the reef, lies calcareous mudstones, sandstones and thin limestone desposits. Fossil ammonoids (shelled animals that are now extinct), nautiloids and more than 25 species of the prehistoric, armour-plated fishes, that dominated Devonian times, may be found.Windjana Gorge
is part of this ancient Devonian reef system rising above the Lennard River. The gorge is some 3.5km long and is a spectacular fissured grey
stretch of towering cliffs above the alluvial floodplain. During the wet season, the river floods in a spectacular torrent of raging white water but during the peak tourist season (the "dry") visitors can enjoy walking along its banks and sometimes its sandy river bed. The deep, moist soils of the riverbank support the tall broad-leaved leichardt tree, native figs and the paper-barked cadjeputs. These trees also provide shelter from the hot sun for many waterbirds, fruit bats and corellas. Freshwater crocodiles can often be seen in the pools.
Tunnel Creek, located 35km south of Windjana Gorge
, is protected by National Parks and is Western Australia
's oldest cave
system and is also Devonian reef. Tunnel Creek National Park
covers just 91 hectares however is a day use area with facilities limited to toilets and an information shelter. The Tunnel Cave
is the main attraction, being about 750m long and up to 12m high, although in some sections it is as low as 3m.
Whilst most people think of this region in terms of it's geological history, the most interesting story is that of Jandamarra, an Aboriginal man who gained a notoriety in the region late last century that rivalled that of the Kelly Gang in Victoria
. Tunnel Cave
is famous as a hideout used by this Aboriginal leader who was killed outside the cave
entrance in 1897.
This is an extract of Jandamarra's story with thanks to DEC WA.
Jandamarra led an organised armed rebellion by Kimberley
Aboriginal people against European settlers using the caves and surroundings of Windjana Gorge
and Tunnel Creek as hideouts. These activities prevented pastoralists from opening up a large part of the Kimberley
for some time. Aboriginal people in the Kimberley
were dispossessed of their land by pastoralists, deprived of their traditional hunting areas and forced to work on the stations. If they were charged with spearing sheep or cattle, they were chained around the neck and walked to Derby
, where they worked off their sentences in chains. Jandamarra was a Bunuba Aborigine who lived in the Napier and Oscar Ranges for most of his life. During his early contact with Europeans, while working on stations and while in gaol for spearing sheep, he became a highly skilled horseman and marksman. However, the stint in jail interrupted his tribal education, and he was not properly trained in the Law. On his return home, he was effectively banished from Bunuba society because of having broken strict kinship rules that prohibited sexual relations with particular women. After befriending another loner, the Police Constable Richardson, Jandamarra became an unofficial tracker for the police. During a patrol of the Napier Ranges with Richardson, Jandamarra helped to capture a large group of his kinsmen and women. But over the next few days, while they were held at Lillimilura Police Post, his tribal loyalties gained the upper hand. He shot Richardson, stole some guns and set the captives free.
On November 10. 1894 Jandamarra and his followers attacked a party of five Europeans who were driving cattle to set up a large station in the heart of Bunuba land. Two of them, Burke and Gibbs, were killed at Windjana Gorge
. This was the first time that guns were used against European settlers in an organised fashion.
In late 1894 a posse of 30 or so heavily armed police and settlers attacked Jandamarra and his followers, who had staked out Windjana Gorge
in readiness. Jandamarra was seriously wounded and was believed to have died. However, the police then embarked on a military-style operation against Aboriginal camps around Fitzroy Crossing
. Many Aboriginal people were killed, despite none being identified as rebels.
For three years, Jandamarra tried to defend his lands and his people against police and white settlers. His vanishing tricks became legendary. At one point a police patrol managed to follow him to his hideout at the entrance to the Cave
of Bats (Tunnel Creek) when word was received that he had raided Lillimilura Police Post during their absence. Jandamarra was held in awe by other Aboriginal people as a magical person who could "fly like a bird and disappear like a ghost". They believed he was immortal, his body simply a physical manifestation of a spirit that resided in a water soak near Tunnel Creek. Only an Aboriginal person with similar mystical powers could kill him.
The tide finally turned in favour of the police, when they recruited a remarkable black tracker from the Pilbara
, known as Micki. Micki was said to possess magical powers and did not fear Jandamarra. Jandamarra was finally tracked down and killed by Micki at Tunnel Creek on April 1, 1897, finally ending the battle for Bunuba lands.
More about this story and others can be found by visiting the Lillimilura Police Station Ruins
nearby Windjana Gorge
. Originally built in 1884 as the homestead
for the King Sound Pastoral Company, the stone ruins can be enjoyed via interpretive signage.
The unsealed Fairfield-Leopold Downs Road is often closed during the wet season due to flooding that makes this area impassible. During the dry season, this dirt road is well travelled by tourists and is generally suitable for caravans although care should be taken as dips, washouts and corrugations are prevalent.
A visit to Tunnel Creek requires you are prepared to get wet as some wading through pools of water (some up to knee-deep) is required to reach through the tunnel to the other side. For safety and enjoyment, you should use a head-lamp or carry a torch. If you choose to wear footwear, boating shoes, wetsuit booties, reef walking shoes or similar would be the most suitable.
There are no fuel or general supplies available between Derby
and Fitzroy Crossing
. Your vehicle will need to be extensively prepared for remote area travel, with all fuel, water, food and vehicle repair equipment, recovery gear, first aid
, and spares & tools. All travellers should read the 4WDriving Topic for related articles and checklists for vehicle setup and driver awareness.
Experienced remote travellers should already have all the necessary communications equipment that are necessary for a trip of this nature. The minimum requirements would be to carry good communications and navigation equipment (along with being proficient with it's usage).
Camping fees apply (As of 2009: $10 per adult, $2 for children under 16).
Fuel Supplies & Usage
|Derby, Fitzroy Crossing
||Diesel||4cyl 41 litres
||ULP||4cyl 48 litres
||LPG||4cyl 59 litres|
|6cyl 45 litres||6cyl 53 litres||6cyl 52 litres|
|8cyl 45 litres||8cyl 49 litres|
Best Time To Visit
This region of the Kimberley
is generally closed during the monsoonal rains, which occur during the hot summer months.
Closest Climatic Station
Distance from Trek Mid Point 85.01km W
|Mean Max. °C
|Mean Min. °C
|Mean Rain mm
Best time to travel Ok time to travel Travel NOT recommended
Services & Supplies
The following locations have various services and supplies: Derby
, Fitzroy Crossing