Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek and Fitzroy Crossing Week 16

Friday, Jul 26, 2013 at 20:21

Member-Heather MG NSW

Rough roads, Interesting landforms, crocodiles, boabs,

Monday July 22nd.

After 5 nights in a van park, we were happy to say goodbye to Derby and get back on the road. Today we were headed for Windjana Gorge campground and, for a short distance, the Gibb River Road. There was a short stop to take photos of us at the Road signs just out of Derby. Several people we had spoken to had told us that the last 20 kms to the campground, along the Fairfield Leopold Downs Road, was the roughest section, but we pulled up on the road side before that, at the start of the intermittent dirt sections, on the GGR, to deflate the tyres on both vehicles to around 28lbs.
Already, at 9.30am, the temperature was climbing and we decided that we would stay in the generator friendly part of the campground so we could run our Honda 2 to power the air conditioner during the hottest part of the afternoon to try to escape the worst of the heat. Having bought a 10 litre Gerry can and filled it in Derby we were prepared!
The stories about the corrugated road were indeed right and although we tried various speeds and tactics, we bumped uncomfortably along on the worst bits and wondered whether the van would do what we were asking it to without problems. Every now and then there was a short smoother section which gave us hope that the worst was over, and then suddenly we were confronted by another rough bit and had to slow down rapidly! The twenty kilometres seemed to take a while and we were overtaken by other vehicles, some towing seriously off road pop top vans, camper trailers and the like.
We were happy to arrive at the campground which is large, spacious, flat and has some trees which provide welcome shade. The backdrop is impressive with the rugged stony gorge walls soaring into the bluest of skies, only a couple of hundred metres from here.
We spent some time discussing which way to park the van so as to avoid having the fridge side in full sun all day. John became pretty exasperated during this time and started telling me to ‘just tell me how you want me to park it’ as I re checked the compass on the Pajero’s GPS, and I felt he was being a bit unreasonable! No doubt it was probably highly entertaining to a couple not so far away who were sitting outside their camper trailer, but I was determined to get it right! Afterwards he conceded that I was probably right, or more correct than he, as he wanted to park the opposite way (totally wrong)!
Here, for $8 per person (concession rates) we have the luxury of flushing toilets, hot solar showers, even water which must be potable as there is no signage to indicate otherwise. The campground hosts as usual do a great job of ensuring everyone is happy and the campground is an orderly place. Generators may be used between 7am and 8 pm which is pretty reasonable. I ran ours to make a few cups of coffee during the afternoon but otherwise ours was a quiet camp today.
After setting up our van with shade cloth awnings and the usual, we lunched and then I went for a walk to explore the Gorge a little way, while John lazed on the bed to read a while. Despite partial shade and rock overhangs, it was very hot down along the sandy base where large pools of water lay, their sunny edges lined with many freshwater crocs basking without fear of humans like me who wandered close by to take photos. In just a few hundred metres I saw at least a hundred I reckon. No wonder it is regarded as a great place to view them!
I also saw a bird which I tried to photograph, unsuccessfully, and which I am almost sure was a pheasant cuckal having seen them before. When I walked past the information board on the way back to the campground, I did see it listed, so maybe…. There were many other birds as well, including lots of great bower birds, pee wees, whistling kites (in hundreds), darters, zebra finches, egrets…..
I made an effort not to turn on the laptop all day and sat outside under the awning to read. A large lizard of some type, most likely a Goulds or sand monitor, lumbered past and I managed to get a couple of quite clear photographs of him before he disappeared into the dry vegetation, perfectly camouflaged.

We lit a mosquito coil around 5pm and John sat outside well after dark which is unusual as he worries about being attacked by mosquitoes unless we have a camp fire going. (There are communal fire pits here but we probably won’t use one.)John lit one of the mosquito coils we had bought in Derby and talked about his family using them when he was a child back in Coramba in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. We cooked our evening meal on the gas and ate outside as the evening air cooled us, then boiled up a billy of water to wash up with. Having had showers mid afternoon in the solar ones, we retired to the van and watched a movie ‘The Tourist’ on the DVD player.
Late in the afternoon, a tour bus arrived and the occupants set up tents and seemed to have a very friendly, noisy, and happy evening together. The campground really filled up as the day progressed but by 9 pm there was hardly a noise to be heard.
Tuesday July 23rd.
We were woken before 6am to the sounds of the campers in the Tour Bus area. It seems they have to be packed up early and there was lots of activity from bleary eyed, mostly older people as they went about their chores. It was a lovely cool morning and we had both slept very well. I sat outside to drink my morning pot of coffee, absorbing the views and and the bird calls.
After breakfast we set off with one bottle of water to walk the length of the Gorge. I’m not sure how far we walked however there were no markers where we went to and by the time we turned around we knew we did not have adequate water with us! It was very hot out there and further away from the campground, there was little shade!John continued walking long after I wanted to stop and disappeared from view up along the gorge while I sat in the shade and worried about him being bitten by a snake and dying out there, leaving me to try to hitch up the van and drive out alone! Yeah, I have a good imagination and am a worrier I guess, but to me it was stupid to do it with no water! Try telling that to a pig headed Vietnam Vet!
Again today, in the biggest water holes closest to the campground, there were so many basking crocs, some lying partially submerged in shallow water but most lay on the edges where, from a distance, they looked pretty much like small log, their rough skins camouflaged so well.
We returned to the van around 10.30, mixing refreshing drinks of iced water and orange hydrolyte tablets to help us recover from the exertion. It’s the first time I have used them and found them very palatable compared to Gatorade or other sports drinks, which I detest the taste of!
Windjana Gorge is 3.5 kms in length, tunnelled out of the Napier Range by the Lennard River. There is aboriginal art depicting wandjina figures here but it’s hard to find and well hidden
We waited until one pm and the van temperature inside was 33 degrees to fire up the generator and run the air conditioner. It was a pleasant afternoon inside and too hot to be doing anything outdoors anyway…and it runs very effectively on the Eco setting, at low fan level. I turned it off around 4 pm when the worst of the days heat was leaving us and we were able to venture outside again.
We had a repeat of the previous evening, with showers before dinner. While hot enough, the three campground showers are interesting as they only have a light curtain for privacy and in the wind that has been blowing, it pretty much failed in providing any, billowing up around my ears! Having used it yesterday, when two young backpackers came in, today I chose the one on the far end so as not to have anyone walking past me!John couldn’t see what the problem might be and told me about the army days when he shared with many other men all standing in a row with no privacy, but it’s an unusual situation for women to have this I think, and a bit uncomfortable when you know that when bare you kind of look a bit like you need ironing and the body is past its best!
Wednesday July 24th.
We set out with the van in tow towards Tunnel Creek, along the Fairfield Leopold Downs Road, prepared for a slow and arduous journey, having been told to expect worse road than the 20kms into the Gorge campground. To us it didn’t seem as bad, although maybe a couple of days had dulled our memories! In places it was rough, stony, corrugated though nothing worse than we had already done. On arrival in the Car Park, some 35 kms later, we were surprised to see so many laden 4WD vehicles, and only later realised that they were doing an Aboriginal guided tour.
After collecting torches and putting on our canoe shoes we set out to walk into the underground creek. It was a very interesting walk, over some boulders near the entrance and then on rocks, sand and through a number of cool pools of water, only one over my knees. With no or little light, it was difficult to take photos I was happy with, but some aren’t too bad and show what it was like deep underground where the water cuts its way through to emerge some 750 metres along. About half way there has been a partial collapse of the mountain and vegetation grows down the side of the rocky ‘hill’. Above us were the usual limestone cave features, stalagtites and other shapes but our torches weren’t all that effective and John had left his good Led Lenser 7 back in the van, so I felt as though I wasn’t getting all that good a look at anything.
At the end of the tunnel we were told about some aboriginal art high above in a rock overhang on the left hand side so we walked the very short distance to have a look and take photos before re- tracing our steps back to the car park. The cool temperature and water underground was a lovely change from the hot days we had been experiencing.

Apparently Tunnel creek is the only place in WA where a river passes through a mountain range via a cave and it was a hideout for Jandemarra, the infamous aboriginal, for a number of years.
By now, the place was really looking busy but we had no trouble finding our Jayco Outback van among the Kimberley Karavans, camper trailers and 4WD’s! We climbed back into the Pajero after turning the fridge back from gas to 12v and were soon on our way south towards the Great Northern Highway, in search for an overnight camp some 60 kms. further on. We had little idea of what to expect on the road other than having been told that it was in better shape than the road we had already been over, and that it was manageable provided we drove to the conditions and took it crefully!
We thought the road was at least as bad, encountering corrugations, many sharp rocks, sandy creek crossings and one with water of undetermined depth over it and a very rocky bottom, which we drove across. There were at least three stops to check the tyres and for any damage before we continued on our way, bumping, I am sure very noisily, along, meandering across the road in search of the better part of the track! We only saw one or two other vehicles travelling along the road in the other direction, and one overtook us, but we did drive past a group of people standing to one side undertaking an Aboriginal guided tour, who looked just as surprised to see us as we did them, their 4WD’s all pulled parked along one side of the road. We gave one another a friendly wave and lumbered past!

Our destination for the night was to be the RAAF Boab quarry about 10 kms north of the Great Northern Highway Road junction and I kept a lookout for a dirt track leading off to the left. Finally we found one and drove a short distance to a most picturesque place with large flat sites and many areas to choose from. I decided our backdrop should be soaring rocky walls and boab trees and while we were getting level we were shocked to see one of our neighbours from home who walked up to us, even more amazed by the co incidence than we were! There were great guffaws and exclamations of surprise as the chances of seeing one another, especially in a place which is not even signposted was pretty remote!
We discovered that he and a mate had just come across the Tanami and were on their way to stay at Windjana Gorge overnight before starting out on the Gibb River Road. We walked back a bit to get the car and his mate, and we sat under the awning while the men drank a couple of celebratory beers and we shared travel tales! They had called in here to take photos as Col had been through here once before.
After farewelling them and getting our camp set up, we walked to the top of the rocks and discovered a most picturesque sight, a man-made gorge filled with clear blue water and sheer rocky walls and a rough track which we followed around the top. Apparently materials from here were used to build the RAAF Curtin Air Base near Derby and the ‘gorge’ resulted when the quarried material was removed. I took many photographs, some of the wildflowers which are in bloom, including the yellow flowers of the kapok tree and a desert rose. I also photographed one of the trees which we have seen since we arrived in the Kimberley, which has long droopy deep red seed pods and small red flowers and round leaves. There were also feathers and boab seeds to add to my collection of small found objects to take back to show the grandchildren or maybe to use in future drawings.
The only signs of damage after the rough road were a door hinge on a cupboard loose, and the track on one side of a kitchen drawer unscrewed, so John had a few minutes work repairing those. There is the usual little bit of dust in around wheel arches but everything else seems ok. Lucky again it seems!
We were hoping to have the place to ourselves overnight however with many rings of stones which had formed campfires it looked to be quite well known to travellers so we weren’t all that surprised to see a couple of 4WDs with young people arrive late afternoon wave, and disappear to set up camp well away from us. Just before dark three others also arrived, a camper trailer, a van and a sedan which are all within sight of us but well away.

Tonight, with milder temperatures, I cooked inside the van and we had hot showers after doing the dishes. John spent an hour playing games on the second laptop until the battery ran low and I did some photo uploading and editing so that I wouldn’t be in bed and asleep too early!
Thursday 25th July.
A much cooler, and quieter, night which required the doona and windows closed up a little, I woke to 12 degrees which was a pleasant surprise, so it’s probably around 8 degrees outside. One of the big differences about this trip is that we have experienced very few chilly nights and I do miss them, loving the cold weather as I do. (Also hating hot weather, which I have to put up with on this trip, in order to see the places we want to).
At sunrise I was out taking photos with the almost full moon over the van and the big boab nearby. This must surely be one of the loveliest places we have camped in overnight and I feel so lucky that we pulled in to have a look as it would have been so easy to continue past and drive to Fitzroy Crossing a day early.
After breakfast, which we ate outside warmed by the sun, we watched a young man give his daughter rock climbing lessons on the huge boulders near the camp site. We also decided to drive south a kilometre or two to have a look at the Lost City formations mentioned in another camping book, and to drive off the road a little to take some photos. It was also a very scenic place but we felt our campsite was hard to beat!

We arrived in Fitzroy Crossing mid-morning after stopping to inflate the tyres to normal road pressures. Decided which van park to stay in by whether it had a toilet dump point so chose the Fitzroy River Lodge and Caravan Park, situated a little distance from town and across the river. The park seemed to be filling up quickly and we were in a line of vans choosing a site and parking their vehicles.
Our first priority after lunch was to deal with the toilet and then take a drive to look around the small town. The huge, well stockedIGA Supermarket is situated in a new looking complex which also houses the Post Office and a newsagency. Unfortunately their choice of bread was white sliced or white or very stale feeling high fibre dense healthy bread marked with a best before date of 12/7 and a hand written date of 29/7 so I found a couple of packs of wraps which we have placed in the fridge and will use until we get to Kununurra in a week or so. Tomorrow I will get any other supplies we need to last the next six days.
We decided to leave any further exploring until tomorrow and have just lazed away the afternoon in the park. I also chatted at some length with a couple of different people also staying , and we made a few phone calls to family to let them know where we are. There was also the job of uploading photos to Facebook, and whilst checking the news we discovered that we missed the birth of ‘the royal baby’ while we were camping blissfully away from media! OMG!
Friday July 26th.
It was a very cool morning and we actually used the fan heater for a while. Well, maybe it wasn’t all that cold but we are unused to anything resembling cold by now!
Laundry done and on the lines under our awning early, we packed water and fruit and headed out to have a look at Geikie Gorge along a sealed road approximately 20 kms from the Crossing. The road was a pleasant change but the walk itself (around 4 kms return) was hot and along a very soft sandy track. Hard work and not all that much fun to do! However the photos I took are quite pretty, especially the ones taken as we walked back along above the edge of the water. We spotted a croc basking in the sun on a rock across the river and a tiny brilliant red dragonfly both of which I photographed but both with pretty poor results.
I staggered along behind John quite a long way, gulping long drinks of water every now and then and taking photographs but I was very happy to return to the car park and the air conditioning.

Back in town we drove out to the Historic Crossing Inn only to find it closed until 4PM, so we couldn’t have a drink or a look inside. There was a brief visit to the Supermarket where we spent $50 on not very much, then a re-fuelling stop and finally John dropped me off at one of the one lane Bridge so I could walk over the Fitzroy river and take photographs. He also went for a bit of an exploratory drive to look for somewhere to fish but was unsuccessful. We also had a gas bottle re filled at the Caravan Park where we are staying at a cost of $45.
This afternoon I have been productive, baking a fruit cake, making a batch of yogurt, re packing various cupboards and drawers, and doing some long overdue cleaning to rid the interior of the van of some of the red dust, before our next venture off the sealed roads.
John has spent hours trying to win a card game on the second laptop and is ecstatic that he will have two games of Rugby league to watch on TV tonight.

Saturday July 27th.
Another cool morning where we were glad to have the fan heater.
Although we took our time leaving Fitzroy Crossing, we were still on the road before 9am. With a few choices for tonights camp we were keen to see the roadside scenery and stopped a couple of times for me to take photos of the red rocky ranges, which I had imagined the Kimberley to be like, having seen ‘Australia’ the movie.
At the rest area on top of a lookout we were impressed once again with WA’s facilities for travellers. There were clean, new looking toilets, a big undercover picnic area with tables and bench seats and a dump point. Had it been later in the day, we would have stayed overnight as it was well off the road and there was lots of space, also the opportunity to walk and explore the area on the rocky plateau and slopes.
We decided instead to continue and when we arrived at Larrawa Station we knew we would enjoy camping overnight in the lovely natural setting amongst spinifex and small trees. It’s only 4 kms off the highway between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls creek on good gravel road and for $20 there are clean new looking flushing toilets and hot showers. And yes it is in ‘Camps Australia wide 7.’ Of course it is unpowered but others here were running generators which rather spoiled the lovely setting although we still managed to enjoy a campfire and a delicious meal of lamb shanks. It was our first fire in about a month and we thoroughly enjoyed sitting watching the sun slip behind the horizon, framed by spinifex, and then the stars and milky way appearing. An added bonus (or not) is Telstra phone and internet signal.
The short walk to the ‘river’ (about three kms. return) was hot and we found it reduced to a puddle of stagnant water with a dead pelican on the edge, however we did chose to do it in the middle part of the day! I was glad we had taken water! On the way we met a young camel who is obviously used to being fed and was unconcerned about us being up close to him.

When we arrived there was one other camp and by late afternoon only three other vans had pulled up so people are obviously prefer to stay in the free rest areas on the road than pay this small amount. We met the friendly woman who lives here when she did her rounds and were offered farm eggs and given zucchini. While talking, I discovered the station is around half a million acres in size and cattle from here are mainly sent to Queensland for fattening in the feedlots for the Australian market.
Sunday July 28th.
A blissfully quiet night at Larrawa Station. We were woken by an early morning chorus of birds and although we had plans to set off by 9 we were on the road earlier. We stopped in at Mary Pool with the intention of staying a night should we find a relatively private campsite however with close to a hundred vans parked already, we took one look and drove back out.
Our second choice was Caroline Pool, not far from Halls Creek along unsealed Duncan Road. With the tyres inflated to on road pressures it was a very bumpy ride over rough and corrugated road so reluctantly John pulled over and we deflated them yet again! When we arrived at Caroline Pool there were a number of other campers parked, some in the sandy river bed, and because it looked only to be a small place we decided instead to go to Old Halls Creek and have a look at the Lodge which offers powered and unpowered sites apparently, plus amenities. Unfortunately this meant yet more rough roads which by now we were sick and tired of!
We didn’t expect the Ritz however we were not prepared for the dilapidated, unkempt appearance of this rustic place but did a drive through, past a few others who were staying, and decided it was not for us! I don’t know what it charges per night but we were not prepared to pay to stay there and instead returned to a flat place just off the access road to Caroline Pool and about 1 km from there.
There is what appears to be a very old grave here surrounded by a rusty metal frame and I have pondered who may be buried there and what their story is.

We parked, tucked in close to some small trees, so the fridge wouldn’t be in sunlight and set out the awning for protection from the heat but didn’t bother setting up all the usual gear apart from the chairs. It was so beautifully quiet unless a vehicle drove past every now and then and I spent quite a lot of the afternoon sitting under the awning, reading and having the occasional cup of coffee while John preferred to lie on the bed under the fan. The temperature inside rose to 31 degrees however outside it was reasonably pleasant out of the sun, with a gentle breeze and few flies.
There would have been at least a dozen assorted rigs and 4WDs who drove down and must have found somewhere to camp and we couldn’t imagine how cramped and horrible it would be, especially given there are no toilets!
Not all that long before dark a vehicle pulled up a short distance away and the driver, a man probably a little older than us, came over and explained that he had taken a wrong road and needed to set up his tent to get a few hours sleep and that the other place (Caroline Pool) was very crowded! It kind of wrecked our privacy however I felt sympathy for this lonely traveller and could well understand why he also chose to stay near us. Although I had run the generator a few times to make coffee, I told John I wouldn’t need it again and we packed it away as we didn’t want to make undue noise with someone else here.
Tonight we had Moroccan chicken with couscous and pine nuts, a meal chock full of flavour and dried fruits and vegetables. At this point I am beginning to run out of some ingredients and will continue to have to be inventive until we get a chance to restock, probably in Wyndham on Thursday at the earliest.
I have just realised that it is already the end of Week 16. They seem to come around very quickly, and we have begun to discuss just when we will turn for home and how quickly we will get there.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. John Muir
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