2002 Trip - Kimberley & Kakadu. Part 4 –Windjana Gorge to Wyndham on the Gibb River Road

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2002 at 17:31


Windjana Gorge Campground is busy but peaceful. We were up early to ring on of our sons for his birthday only to find that the camp phone only works using a card that is only available from the ranger. There was no ranger to be found. So instead we took a walk down into the gorge in the early light. We were too early for the crocs to be out of the water but there were beautiful reflections and a noisy colony of small black bats in a tree hanging over the water. By 8 we were back at camp packed up ready to join a ranger and a young NZ family for a quick trip to a nearby rock art site. This involved going back towards Tunnel Creek, down a side road and then across country. Then a scramble up to a rock overhang where as well as spear sharpening grooves, grain grinding stones and some rock carvings there were numerous paintings including a large horizontal Wandjina figure- 6 fingers, no mouth and large “halo”. Also snakes, crabs, fish and hand stencils. A marvelous place; water dripped from the rocks and the view out across the valley was superb. It was easy to understand why this was a special place.

Back to the gorge for another more relaxed walk to see the crocs - which by this time were out on the banks and basking in the water. We counted about 20. Windjana is said to be the premier site to see freshies, so we took lots of photos. Back at the carpark we were intrigued by the ladies toilet - it had flowstone growing in the bowl! As we were having a cuppa we were hailed by Barry and Jo, our companions on the Tanami Track. They were heading for Derby, so we had a good chat swapping info on places to see and stay. They have really enjoyed their trip including the fishing at Kalumbaru.

By then it was time to get on the road and it proved to be in good condition. The road took us through the Napier Range formed by the limestone reefs. Then the country begins to change and become more rugged as we approached the King Leopold Ranges. There are large areas of smooth rock and very sharp jagged rock spines. Our campsite tonight is beside a waterhole on Dog Chain Creek, fringed with waterlilies and surrounded by large shady trees – very attractive.

The next morning the road climbed up the range, celebrating with a short bitumen section. From the photo stop at the top we looked across very rugged country capped with thick layers of quartzite. Red flowered kurrajongs and yellow flowered cottonwood stood out among small eucalypts and wattles. Then down the other side of the range to the turn-off to Bell’s Gorge – 20km or more along a reasonable side road with a few creek crossings. Silent Grove looked a crowded and dusty camp area. All the tags for the private camping areas had already been taken (its only 9.30). So onto Bell’s Gorge where the carpark was nearly full. The walk down to the creek is a bit rocky but along the creek there are many pandanus and spectacular eucalypts with white bark and brilliant orange flowers (Darwin Woollybutt). The falls cascade over several ledges and are maybe 15-20m high with big pools above and below the falls. A few people were in the water, but most were not braving the rather cold water. We climbed around the edge of the falls and sat for a while admiring the view, then headed back to Troopie and the GRR. There was some interesting scenery along the way – rugged hills and wide grassy flats. The road was very good in places but rough and heavily corrugated in others.

We missed Adcock Gorge which was not signposted, and found that access to Galvan’s Falls was by foot only, and no camping nearby as access to the camping area was fenced off. Galvan’s Falls were small but very beautiful falling down a low cliff into a large round pool – a damp cool area with pandanus and welcome shade. There were waterlilies and other small flowering water plants in the creek.

We called into Mt. Barnett Roadhouse for petrol, and again our hopes of phoning went out the window as the phone was out of order. So we proceeded on to the Barnett River Gorge, but heading for a slightly out of the way camping area instead of the main camp on the way to the gorge. We plan to have a rest day here tomorrow. The camp area has a very large boab that still has most of its leaves. It is 75m from the river which we can hear as it gurgles over the gravel beds. There is a good BBQ and plenty of firewood. So far we have this ideal spot to ourselves.

We spent a lazy day in this lovely spot without moving Troopie, just washing, checking Troopie and then exploring along the river for a few hundred metres either side of our camp. There are 3 or 4 big pools each 100 to 200 metres long and possibly 3 or 4m deep. They are fringed with pandanus, very tall paperbarks, a spectacular orange flowered grevillea and white barked eucalypts. Between the pools are stony riffles where water runs between the rocks. Away from the water there are kurrajongs with scarlet flowers and bare stems. There are many birds feeding in the paperbark and grevillea flowers – the ground under them is carpeted with blossom which the corellas have bitten off. We haven’t seen another person all day. We rate this the best camp so far, and made the most of the big raised BBQ in the shape of a half 44gal drum split lengthways – except its not a drum but has been welded up using heavy steel.

We were sorry to leave our very pleasant and solitary camp. Our first stop was the Barnett River Gorge. It’s camping area was only a couple of km upstream of our camp. Numerous sites were spread out along the river with roughish access tracks between. We drove almost to the end of the track and walked the last km to the river and along it until stopped by rock. Very similar to where we were camped; perhaps deeper and wider. We then found a walking track marked by rock cairns that followed the top of the gorge, which started being only about 10 m deep, then got deeper as we progressed. This gave good views over the gorge – no waterfall, just some small rapids. On returning towards Troopy we came across a small grass fire among the rocks close to a parked vehicle – probably started from a smouldering log at a nearby campfire. We beat it out as best we could with branches; our clothes and consequently Troopy smelled very smoky afterwards! It was a good lesson about the need to put campfires out properly.

We then got back (about 10km) to the GRR, and drove east through what was by now a familiar landscape – flattish country quite heavily vegetated with grass and small to medium trees, mostly eucalypts, wattles and bauhinias. There are very few boabs here. There were a few fair sized creeks with water in large pools.

By lunch time we had reached the junction of the GRR and the road north to Kalumbaru. Two or three km up the Kalumbaru Rd there was a good camping area beside the Gibb River, so we stopped there for lunch. We checked out the area in anticipation of using it on the way back from the Mitchell Plateau/Kalumbaru. We set off north hoping to reach the Mitchell Plateau road today. The road had just been graded so was very good – until we passed the grader a few km south of Drysdale River Station, after which it deteriorated suddenly with deep sandy patches and big corrugations. We called into Drysdale River Station to top up fuel and use a phone and post box. The phone worked! Not only that, it was housed outdoors in a disused refrigerator! The post box was cleared twice a week, due to be cleared in a couple of hours, so we sent off some postcards.

Then on towards the Mitchell Falls turnoff, about 100 km north, which our guide book indicated could be done in an hour. We found the road so heavily corrugated that after 20km of intense hammering (which took about an hour) we decided enough was enough and turned round. Troopy’s wellbeing seemed much more important than seeing a (dry ?) waterfall! So, back to Drysdale River Station (another awful 20 km!) then south to the Gibb River campsite we’d checked out earlier. There was plenty of space so we found a good spot with firewood and had a rethink about our itinerary. We have had quite a few reports that El Questro is not good value so will probably bypass it. The floods earlier this year have dumped huge amounts of sand everywhere making conditions there unattractive apparently.

Moving east from the Kalumbaru Road we saw country which better fitted our preconceptions of the Kimberly. Leaving Gibb River we traveled through country which was undulating at first, becoming increasingly rugged and rocky. The road was fairly good, though more winding and hilly than the earlier sections – certainly not the horror stretch that some had portrayed it. We crossed the Durack River – big water holes now, but a wide (>1km) flood plain covered with sand and ti-trees, all growing at an angle and stacked with debris. Along the way we saw more orange flowered grevilleas and a new Eucalypt with brilliant orange flowers and attractive tan bark. After travelling through increasingly broken country we came to a lookout point with superb views of the Cockburn Range and the Pentecost and Durack Rivers. We decided to spend the night at Home Valley in their camping area beside a creek on sand. The amenities block has combined toilet/shower “rooms” with hot water from a wood fired donkey. We took a walk along the creek bank – John went further along to a gorge. We have heard further reports of El Questro being too expensive, and of others turning back on the Kalumbaru Rd beyond Drysdale River Station. Good to know that we are not the only ones to do that!

Leaving Home Valley our next adventure was the Pentecost crossing, a rough boulder strewn crossing with water up to about 50cm deep. We helped a Dutch cyclist cross, by carrying his panniers while he walked the bike across staying close to Troopy. The crossing went without any difficulties and no-one was eaten by crocodiles! From there we drove a few km up the road to see the very impressive Cockburn Range and find the turn off to the old Kurrunji Rd, eventually locating it right at the river crossing. In the process of searching for the road we met two "retired" school teachers, Wayne and Libby, who were also searching for it.

The road was rough, raw and sometimes had patches of sand and some bulldust. It follows the north western flank of the Cockburn Range along the Pentecost River, and across some vast mud flats, many km in extent. Mirages danced in the distance. We saw no crocodiles, though we were certainly salty territory. We joined Wayne and Libby for lunch at the big boab prison tree - good company, then on to Wyndham following the King River, which was very muddy. There were lots of potential camp sites, and no salties to be seen.

We visited an aboriginal art site along the way before joining the highway a few km from Wyndham. Bitumen - silence!! A very welcome relief! Checked in at the local “I” place then found the only caravan park in town. Checked out some impressive copper aboriginal statues, then up to the Five Rivers Lookout for sunset. There we found the most fabulous views up Cambridge Gulf (enormous!) with its vast mud flats, mountains to the northeast, the Cockburn Range to the south. An amazing sight. Then back to the caravan park for F&C, partially cooked bara, laundry and bed. We admired the quiet jabiru that had been hand reared. He frequents the caravan park and other places in town scavenging for food.

Spent the following morning exploring Wyndham, the old port with its pontoon, Durack store (now a hardware store - closed - "ask at the pub if you want anything"), museum. Saw a cattle ship from a distance being loaded. Then we went to the crocodile farm for their tour although there is no feeding in the dry season. The tour was good value with a friendly and informative guide. There were lots of big crocs in individual pens as well as big lizards in breeding enclosures and lots of young crocs in the “growing on” pens. Some of the crocs were up to 100 years old, weighed up to 500 kgs, and were perhaps up to 6m long. Not something to be encountered out in the bush somewhere.

Other attractions included a young albino croc and two alligators. There were also five Komodo Dragons, maybe 3m long, all very fat, and despite the fact that they can be lethal their keeper happily picked them up and gave them a cuddle!
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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