2002 Trip - Kimberley & Kakadu. Part 3 – Bungle Bungles via Broome to Windjana Gorge

Monday, Nov 11, 2002 at 20:12

Member - John and Val


Next morning we went back to Cathedral Gorge for some more photos. In the morning light the domes and gorge looked quite different. Then on to the Kurrajong Camp (northern section) for lunch, then to Echidna Chasm, which starts as a narrow gorge with fan palms lining the bottom and also clinging to the 100+ m high cliff faces above us. The gorge narrows to a slit in the rocks, in places less than a metre wide. Glimpses of sky can be seen above. The rock is mainly coarse conglomerate with occasional beds of sandstone all a glowing reddish orange colour. The afternoon light reflecting from one side of the gorge onto the other gave some great lighting effects. We passed a Bower bird bower along the path into the gorge.

Then on to Froghole Gorge, driving along dry creek beds. The walk in was steep and slippery with some contortions required to squirm around some corners and clefts. Someone chickened out half way up! There is a different yellow grevillea here. The afternoon sun was shining on the massif walls as we returned to camp – the red of the rocks beautifully set off by the trees with their bright green leaves and stark white trunks.

In the evening we took our chairs and mugs for tea and went to a ranger’s slide show, which gave a very good overview of the history, management and features of the park.

Next morning we had intended returning to Echidna Chasm for another gorge experience and some experimental close-up photography of various flora, especially a showy golden grevillea occurring only in the northern part of the park. We then intended to return to the highway for the night. BUT… we found that troopie was very low on oil - well below the reach of the dipstick . Now up until this point Troopie had never used oil so we hadn’t thought to carry any. (We now carry plenty; I suppose it’s a case of learning from your mistakes!)

There were not many petrol vehicles about and those that were didn’t have oil either. Eventually our volunteer camp manger kindly provided us with 2 litres of diesel oil which at least brought the level back onto the dipstick. There was still some sign of radiator leakage. This did not seem like a good spot to be out of oil so we decided not to tempt fate by driving any further than necessary, so reluctantly we gave up on a return to Echidna Chasm and headed out over the 53km of corrugations, rocks and creek crossings to the highway. By now we were getting somewhat depressed by the series of maladies afflicting Troopie.

We stopped at the first parking area on the highway to regroup, check for shake damage and generally celebrate the return to bitumen. The area was well populated and on pulling up were hailed by an elderly couple offering us a cup of tea which in the circumstances we enthusiastically accepted. The hot water came from a BBQ made from a 4 gallon drum, and milk was served in a jug! They couldn’t understand why others didn’t accept and seemed to think their approach a bit odd.

We then headed back to Hall’s Creek and bought some oil, refueled and headed west towards Fitzroy Crossing. We stopped for the night at Mary Pool rest area – a delightful place crowded with maybe 50 caravans as we arrived just on sundown. With Troopie we were able to descend from the main area on top of the river bank to a sandy lower level which is closer to the river – though the water is still some distance away across sand. This was definitely the best site, and inaccessible to vans. After dinner we sat beside our fire and with everyone else were entertained by a piano accordionist with a good singing voice and reasonable repertoire. A neighbour was a stockman who had just finished mustering 17,000 cattle with the help of just his 2 dogs, he turned out to be a real character who drives excavators for his “other” job.

Come day 16 a sole pelican patrolling the big pool provided the mornings entertainment, while a cool wind encouraged a quick pack-up. A smell of petrol noticed during the night seemed to be coming from the second tank. Troopie’s little problems are becoming just a bit annoying even if they aren’t major impediments. We were on the road before 8 – but even so many caravans had left ahead of us – and continued to travel on bitumen through flat country with occasional jump ups and ridges in the distance. But the vegetation is quite variable – shrublands and grasslands.

The Fitzroy River at Fitzroy Crossing is an impressive sight. We crossed over the new bridge which is very high and is supposed to be above flood level. Even so it was closed by floods a few years ago. We also went across the old causeway although there was no water coming over. From FC we went out to Geike Gorge, a short trip with bitumen all the way. The gorge is where the river cuts through a fossilized limestone reef. There is a 1.5km walking track beside the river, which we followed. The floods last wet season were at a record height and dumped masses of sand everywhere making for hard walking. The limestone has formed weird shapes but the most impressive thing is seeing how high the water rises when the river floods – the high water level is marked in the walls of the gorge by a line above which the rocks are grey, but bleached white below. We looked for fossils but only found a few shells are the far end of the track. The river channel is across sand flats some distance from the track, so we trudged across to get a closer look at the water – this was hot and dusty work, although the contrast between the hot sand and cool deep water edged by green trees and coloured rocks was attractive. The water looked tempting enough for a swim but uncertainty about crocs kept us out of the water.

Returning from the gorge we checked out some possible riverside camps beside the river but opted for one on private property beside a pretty little billabong. It has the luxury of an amenities block built out of corrugated iron, with a wood fired donkey made from a 44 gallon drum to provide hot water, and flushing toilets. What luxury.

No-one came to collect camp fees though we would happily have paid for this good basic facility. The drive from Fitzroy Crossing to Broome was uneventful – long straight stretches, a couple of hilly breakaway sections and patches of boabs were the main points of interest. The country is mainly flat with open trees and shrubs. We came into Broome about lunchtime and spent some time locating people to work on Troopie, and in finding a caravan park. We then did some exploring – a quick walk in Chinatown and on Cable Beach which is very long and flat with white sand and turquoise water but no surf. Then a drive around Gantheaume Point, admiring the views and the colours of blue ocean and red sand and rock. Also the replica dinosaur footprints. Then out to the port although no ships were in, but lots of cattle yarded behind the port. We put up our small freestanding tent in preparation for tomorrow when Val will stay in the caravan park to do washing while John takes Troopie for radiator repairs and an oil change.

So Friday was a “make and mend” day. While Troopie was off the road John walked into Chinatown which was the original Broome, now renovated to attract tourists. He also took a walk through the mangroves and generally reconnoitered. When he returned to pick up Troopie he was pleased to find that we had fallen among friends. Then on for a service where he found that, at least we hadn’t fallen among thieves. Cash works well! Back to campground then another quick visit to Chinatown and back to Cable Beach for sunset – spectacular since a big sailing boat rode slowly across the tranquil sea at just the right place and time. Pity no camera. Returned to camp and set up everything again after a mammoth M&M day. We extended our stay for another 2 days so that we can explore Broome properly and relax.

We went to the Saturday markets in the grounds of the Court House – mainly art/craft and food but we bought a few veggies and a print. Then we further explored Chinatown and the coastal strip – mangrove walk and city beach where there was a sea eagle nesting on a tall steel light tower. Looked at the cemetery with the Japanese section where nearly 1000 are buried – many were pearlers who had died from drowning or the bends. Also a Chinese section and a Muslim section and some early European graves. During these ramblings we found Troopie still leaking radiator fluid, though we could find no sign of where it was coming from. Finished the day with a swim at Cable Beach, the water cool but very refreshing, with just an occasional wave.

Next day we found Troopy’s leak – the water pump. So we booked in for an extra night at the caravan park so it can be dealt with tomorrow. Took a leisurely drive, walked out onto the jetty where lots of fishermen were not catching fish, but where one or two had been very successful. The water colour is a deep aqua green, contrasting with the bright red of the pindan cliffs. Then to a tiny market in Chinatown – very few stalls, all the same as those we saw yesterday at the markets. We went to the museum, which was closed, so on to the old jetty where we again ran into a retired professional photographer we’d last seen in the Bungles. He was photographing just about anything – using slides which he scanned for editing and printing. Then a swim, “home” to another chicken meal (two 3 meal packs of cryovac chicken had lost their seal so had to be used. Only three more chicken meals to go!)

Neighbours who had encroached onto our site ran a TV at annoyingly high levels, so we went for a moonlight walk to the beach and sat and watched the tide come in for an hour. Home again to find the neighbours snoring!

In the morning we were off early to seek assistance with water pump problem. Back to our radiator repairer, Peter, for a new water pump, fitted at an all up cost of $430. By now Troopy’s auxiliary battery was very low so we purchased a 25m extension cord and went searching for a battery charger. No charger, but the local battery centre offered to pick up the battery from the caravan park, charge it overnight and return it. Finally charged it overnight ourselves using the fridge power pack. We have been very pleased with the level of support and willingness of the locals to assist us. While Troopy was off the road we used buses – cheap, friendly and cooperative.

Later in the day we walked further north along Cable Beach where we saw quality foreshore facilities, retaining walls etc, being built. We noted a general attention to quality in much of what we saw at Broome, even bus shelters were well made, clean and painted, no graffiti anywhere, the treated pine posts in post and rail barriers had been turned to a pleasing shape. An Asian influence is evident everywhere – lattice used for screening very commonly, always painted in bright colours, corrugated iron also very commonly used in cladding buildings, affixed in contrasting angles and colours to provide pleasing effects.

We ran into the photographer again and chatted for an hour or more before being joined by a Canadian couple who had spent 3 years teaching in Kuwait. Finally off by bus to pick up Troopy, return to beach for another swim and to watch the sunset, then home to a lazy meal – we are becoming lazier as the days of enforced idleness continue. Back on the road tomorrow!

Packing up next morning was a slow affair as we had lots of interaction with some of the other campers. Finally we got away by about 10 with a well charged auxiliary battery. We went shopping for food, petrol and gas and discovered that our gas bottle was out of date when given a firm but apologetic refusal to fill it.

Then we were heading for Derby, having lunch at the big boab on the main road out of town – it really is big. Then to Derby via the prison tree, an enormous boab which was used in early days as an overnight holding cell for aborigines, and later to house stores during WWII. It’s now a sacred site. Nearby at Myall Bore is a very long cattle trough, said to be the longest in the world and capable of watering 500 bullocks at a time.

We found Derby a rather depressed looking town, quite a contrast to Broome. Driving out to the jetty we passed big mudflat areas. We walked around the jetty which consists of 2 arms reaching out over the water and connected at the outer ends. It is possible to drive right around it. We watched the rapid tidal current though we were there when the tide was quite high and close up under the floor of the wharf. The water is very muddy.

We continued on about 35km to Mary River crossing and a few km off the main road in time to set up camp for the night. But we were disappointed to find that the campsites described by our library of trip notes didn’t come up to expectations. Nevertheless a pleasant enough bush camp but well away from water. Plenty of firewood, and solitude, but for a few inquisitive cattle.

We continued along the Gibb River Road, bitumen at first and then good gravel. The country is flat and scrubby with plenty of big boabs and some open grassland. Then we turned off to Windjana Gorge and chose a campsite with some shade in the campground in the National Park. We left our table and chairs there to claim a spot, and drove on to Tunnel Creek, where the small carpark was quite crowded.

The start of the walk through Tunnel Creek involves quite a clamber over large fallen rocks in the creek bed. Then into the tunnel which looks very black at first but is fairly easy walking mainly on sand in and alongside the creek. There are lots of stalactites and flowstones on the walls and ceiling. Halfway along the tunnel has fallen in and large roots come through the rocks, hanging down. The figs make big thick bundles of roots. The deepest part of the creek was in the far end, but only thigh deep for a few steps, and pleasantly cool. In places water dripped from the end of stalactites and in one place ran over a flowstone, sparkling in the light of our torches. Out in the light at the far end there were more fallen rocks and a large pool surrounded by fig and paperbark trees. Here we had a short rest and cleaned some of the sand out of our boots, ready to head back through the tunnel. This time the dark seemed less intense and we felt like old hands at this walk. In 1880s the tunnel was the hideout of an aboriginal resistance fighter, no doubt a good place to hide for a couple of years, until he and his followers were tracked down and killed in a shootout.

Returning to the camping area we took a short detour to look at the remains of some stone buildings that were built on a cattle station and then were used as a police station. The setting is spectacular with the limestone range as a backdrop, and looking out over miles and miles of flat country with a few jump-ups to the south – but incredibly remote.

Back at the gorge we set up camp and took a short walk into the gorge with the sun lighting up the 100m high limestone walls. Two very placid freshwater crocs were on the bank of a big waterhole, and there were another dozen snouts dotting the water. This is a beautiful place which we will explore more tomorrow. We spent the evening, which was quite cold, talking with a couple who, before their retirement, had been WA wheat farmers. For us east-coasters, they had interesting stories to tell of farming in the west.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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