Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek

StartClick to Reverse the Dynamic Map and Driving NotesDerby
FinishFitzroy Crossing
DifficultyDifficulty 3/5
Suitable for4WD AWD Camper Bike 
Distance295.21 km
Minimum Days2
Average Speed59.5 km/hr
Driving Time4 hrs 57 mins
Article By: ExplorOz Team
Page Updated: 12 Mar 2015


Windjana Gorge, 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 ceiling.

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.

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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 and orange 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

Fuel Symbol
4cyl 41 litres4cyl 48 litres4cyl 59 litres
6cyl 45 litres6cyl 53 litres6cyl 52 litres
8cyl 45 litres8cyl 49 litres
Usage is averaged from recorded data (* specific to this trek) and calculated based on trek distance.

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

Curtin Aero
Distance from Trek Mid Point 85.01km W
Mean Max. °C36.535.536.036.333.230.630.933.136.538.839.838.4
Mean Min. °C25.024.624.222.319.016.415.315.818.421.624.125.0
Mean Rain mm215.5217.1172.144.515.
    Best time to travel      Ok time to travel      Travel NOT recommended

Services & Supplies


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What to See

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Where to Stay

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LocationsDistanceDirection Time
Derby to Derby Hwy & Gibb River Rd5.09 kmSE146° 6 min
Derby Hwy & Gibb River Rd to Gibb River Rd & Fairfield-Leopold Downs Rd118.85 kmE93° 2 hr 22 min
Gibb River Rd & Fairfield-Leopold Downs Rd to Turnoff Fairfield-Leopold Downs Rd to Windjana Gorge20.26 kmE99° 13 min
Turnoff Fairfield-Leopold Downs Rd to Windjana Gorge to Windjana Gorge Camp Area1.66 kmNE26° 3 min
Windjana Gorge Camp Area to Turnoff Fairfield-Leopold Downs Rd to Windjana Gorge1.66 kmSW206° 3 min
Turnoff Fairfield-Leopold Downs Rd to Windjana Gorge to Lillimilura Police Station Ruins3.05 kmE98° 2 min
Lillimilura Police Station Ruins to McSherry Gap24.64 kmSE136° 19 min
McSherry Gap to Tunnel Creek National Park Entry7.59 kmSE135° 6 min
Tunnel Creek National Park Entry to Tunnel Creek Crossing1.3 kmSE134° 1 min
Tunnel Creek Crossing to Great Northern Hwy & Fairfield-Leopold Downs Rd68.03 kmS167° 58 min
Great Northern Hwy & Fairfield-Leopold Downs Rd to Fitzroy Crossing43.09 kmSE125° 27 min
Derby to Fitzroy Crossing295.21 km  4 hr 57 min
Distance is GPS recorded driving distance (not straight line), Direction is straight line from start to end, Time is calculated from actual GPS driving data.


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Travel Journals

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