2002 Trip - Kimberley & Kakadu. Part 5 – Wyndham to Gregory National Park

Monday, Nov 25, 2002 at 17:14

Member - John and Val


Leaving Wyndham we headed out to Parrys Lagoon, a Ramsar wetland in a beautiful setting. There we were delighted to see lots of water lilies and water birds - ducks, herons, magpie geese, stilts, brolgas, coots, Jesus birds. There was a walkway and hide providing good opportunities for taking photos. Many were taken but we then discovered that the camera back was open. Are all our croc and bird photos lost?
We went to Parry’s Farm where we camped for the night.

We returned to the billabong the next morning for another photo session with the birds – unfortunately it was not as well populated as yesterday, and it was quite windy, but there were more brolgas – 12 in one group. From there we went on towards Kununurra along the old Hall’s Creek road. This was mostly just 2 wheel tracks through the grass (up to 4m high in places) following an old stone road, built by convicts in the late 1800s. We stopped in at the Croc Hole but no crocs to be seen – just a pleasant waterhole. We have been reading “Kings in Grass Castles” and wondered how the new brides coming from the south felt when they got off the ship in Wyndham then set off through this country in a buggy. It must have taken a great deal of courage and fortitude.

Then to the Grotto, with its 140 artificial steps leading down into the gorge. It would be a spectacle in the wet, but not now when it is just a stagnant pool below a dry waterfall. There we met up there with a party of folk rather older than us, who in 3 Troopies have been travelling for 10 years, being away from civilisation for up to 10 weeks at a time. We compared notes on how to configure Troopies. They liked our rack system for the tent, and our “overhead lockers”. We liked their fold down tables inside the rear doors. Troopies have a habit of inviting their owners to swap notes and share stories.

On in search of a campsite, we went first to Molly’s Springs where it was clear that others were using the same guide books as we are! There were 4 groups already there, too crowded. So onwards again checking out side tracks, when we came to Middle Springs on a road connecting to Parry’s road. A lovely spot with a pleasant pool below a big rock wall, where we deemed that we would not be camping if we had no tent. Others before us had done the same. We enjoyed the sunset colours and watched some water monitors basking on the rocks

Up early next morning to spruce up for Kununurra and civilisation. Major refurbish with clean clothes, even clean boots – took all of 10 minutes. Resolved that no more than 3 shorts, shirts and socks etc are ever required. Then we were off to Black Rock Springs, another dry waterfall and stagnant pool. Nearby we saw the grave of the head stockman from “We of the Never Never” marked by a small cross. Then back towards Kununurra taking a side road towards Ivanhoe Crossing. Near the river we detoured out to another billabong with lots of whistling ducks and other waterbirds, another great sight. The crossing proved to be quite daunting, as the Ord River here is about 200m wide and appeared to be about 60cm deep on the causeway. Some vehicles were crossing but as we didn’t really need to do the crossing we opted for prudence and didn’t attempt it. There are camping spots near the road which we noted for future reference.

So back to Kununurra checking out the diversion dam on the outskirts of town, and the Kona CP on the way in. The town has a good shopping centre. We had 2 films processed, one we thought to have been lost in the open camera debacle, and one to check that all the lenses were performing OK. Both films turned out well. Shopped for food, then visited the tourist I centre before returning to the Kona CP for lunch and washing. We found an excellent campsite beside the lake. The park even has a vehicle hose-down slab, so Troopie had a much needed bath!

Val.’s left knee has been uncomfortable ever since walking through the soft sand in Geikie Gorge. Over the past few days it has become worse, becoming quite sore and painful. So today we sought out the local hospital where the one doctor in town is based. Some anti inflammatories were prescribed along with advice to the effect that if they don’t work we should go somewhere where X-rays can be done. We were appreciative of their kind attention, but even more appreciative of the service at home that we often grumble about, but where X rays are available just around the corner (relatively speaking).


That plus phone calls took up most of the morning, though John went to the local markets and bought some local produce. After lunch – with local salad veggies a welcome addition – we set out to explore some of the irrigation area. Sugar cane appears to cover the biggest area with melons pumpkins, mangoes, bananas, paw paws, corn, sorghum sweet potatoes, hybrid seed production and sandalwood and other experimental tree crops making up the variety. We stopped at a couple of places and bought some local fruit to add to that bought at the markets this morning. During our drive we passed a fire – a big one which was sending up a huge column of smoke seen earlier in the morning. This was a very hot burn but the locals don’t seem to pay much attention. There were hundreds of black kites circling just behind the flame front. Going back into town we saw the deeply dissected rocks of the Hidden Valley NP – we won’t explore while walking is limited. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and reading. We are beginning to miss seeing things like clouds – endless blue skies are beautiful but clouds add variety and a promise of change.

On our drive we went to the eastern end of the Ivanhoe crossing of the Ord River. The river is even more spectacular from that end. It looks to be probably 300m wide though not as deep as we thought it was – maybe 0.5m over the causeway. But the water flows very fast, so there is a constant roar of water.
During the day we have watched numerous tour boats on the lake and seen a float plane take off a couple of times; it was slow and noisy in the water. Tours seem to be big business here.

Troopie and the tent attracted quite a bit of attention so we spent quite a bit of time swapping ideas with other 4Wdrivers. This morning we drove down to Lake Argyle. The main road follows fairly ordinary country with glimpses of ranges. After the Argyle turn-off the country becomes very rugged and spectacular. We explored a side track which gave a great view over a very minor arm of the lake, but still a large expanse of water. We then stopped off to the reconstructed Argyle homestead and the relocated graves of several members of the Durack family – Patsy, Michael, Mary, Elizabeth, Jerry and 2 children and Pumpkin and stockmen. The homestead, made of stone is not particularly big but the very wide verandahs give a cool and spacious feel. Inside the house are displays showing life of the aborigines and early settlers.

Then on to Argyle Village where we booked into a sunset cruise on the lake. The bus picked us up from the tour office and headed down a very steep winding road to a small pontoon from where we boarded an elegant cruiser for our 3 hour trip. The cruise only took in a small part of the lake, probably less than 20% of the total area, but what we saw was vast. The lake is 70km long and 40km wide and currently holds about 20 times the volume of water in Sydney Harbour. That rises to 50 times if the lake was completely full. And the wall that holds back all this water is only 300m long. There are between 70 and 90 islands depending on the water level. The average depth of water is about 16m, with about 40m in the deepest parts. The views across the lake to the rugged surrounding hills were spectacular, and sunset over Mt. Misery was a sight to remember. We saw a couple of freshies, a jabiru and a few other birds and had a generous taste of the local catfish. These fish can grow to over one metre long and weigh up to 40kg and form the basis of a commercial fishing operation. Barramundi farming is also being developed. Apart from one other cruise operator we saw only 2 other boats moored on the lake, so it is very quiet and peaceful. It is hard to comprehend the vastness of the lake or the amount of water there. Our return voyage was in the dark, with only a couple of small lights one the pontoon to guide us in and to emphasise the isolation. All in all it was quite a trip.

We spent that night at the Argyle Village caravan park which was quite a good place to stay. After packing up in the morning we went to see the wall of the Ord dam from closer quarters. There are two lookouts with limited information, and a drive across the wall and down to a pleasant picnic area opposite the outlet and hydro generating plant (it produces 30MW). This area is lush and green from constant watering. The wall is only 300m long and 100m high – seems incredibly small considering the amount of water it holds back. There are plans to have up to 80,000ha of land under irrigation, much more than the 12,000ha irrigated at present. The Kimberley seems a strange mix of under and over development – certainly the dam and lake and water is very under-utilised. There are very few boats on the lake, and the caravan park and motel have only limited facilities. Maybe it will take time to overcome the problems of distance and climate.

Heading away from the dam we had a look at the spillway – barely flowing now but it would carry a lot of water in the wet. We chanced on an aboriginal art site close to the road – some paintings under a small overhang in a small rock outcrop. One thing about this trip is that we seem to have relied a bit too much on published guides, removing a sense of adventure and creating expectations that may or may not be met. So it really is a thrill to come across something special quite unexpectedly and feel the excitement of discovery.

Driving back to the highway we marveled at the rugged country and wondered at the trials and adventures of those who were pioneers up here, and of the aboriginals who lived in this country. Back onto the bitumen we said farewell to WA after our all-too-brief stay as we drove through the quarantine checkpoint at the WA border. We had heard some reports that there was an inspection in both directions but today at least there is no inspection coming out of WA.

Shortly after we turned off into Keep River NP. We have no information on this area hence have no expectations. Our first pleasant surprise was that the gravel road was very good with only a few small corrugations. We stopped at the first camping area for lunch and went for a walk around a sandstone area that was very similar to the Bungle Bungles but on a smaller scale. But here it is possible to walk among the rocks, although the track was a bit challenging in a couple of places where it dropped a couple of metres over ledges. Overall it was a very enjoyable walk with wonderful views. The camping area seemed to be full so we decided to try the next camping area only to find it equally busy, but we found a spot tucked into the far corner of the campground. From there we had a great view of the sunset lighting up some Bungle like peaks set among orange flowered gum trees.

In the morning we set out on the 6km walk that goes to a lookout over the Keep River escarpment. The track also follows the base of the ridges. Some of the country was very like the Bungles with domes and cones – perhaps a bit less banded – and with fan palms, pandanus and small soaks and waterholes. By exploring some of the side valleys it was possible to really get in among the domes and savour the experience. The track up to the lookout climbed up a big scree slope then climbed onto the ridge for a great view of the escarpment. This area really is so like the Bungles, although not so extensive. We saw a few wildflowers, including the mauve Calytrix, and collected and sampled a few nut like fruits which have a thick, tough shell. In total we probably walked about 9km – mostly easy going except for the section leading to the lookout. Our legs are functioning fairly well still.

After getting back to the campground and having a late lunch we drove to the aboriginal art site which is an open ended arch, protected by barriers. The site has large figures of python and 2 dreamtime figures, plus one wall with many over-painted figures of men, various animals and hand stencils. We explored around the base of the rock outcrop and found a few more figures, but it was very hot. Back at the campground we managed to get a spot off the road and put the tent up so we could have a well earned sponge down. After dinner we joined other campers around the fire for a very pleasant chat until about 10pm. We found ourselves in receipt of some fruit and veges donated by campers heading west tomorrow and going through the quarantine checkpoint. Today has been very satisfying, particularly since it revealed quite quite unexpected delights.


Leaving Keep R. we took a quick look at the Keep River Gorge. It is a wide gorge with some sandstone cliffs, but is quite badly eroded close to the water. Unfortunately walking tracks along the gorge are currently closed, so we headed back out to the highway, heading east.


We were surprised at the number of caravans we encountered heading west. Some appeared to be in convoy, others just banked up by the flow of traffic. The country here was very interesting with sandstone ridges and abrupt terraces. We drove in to see the Gregory tree on the banks of the Victoria River. It is a marked boab, inscribed by the explorer Gregory in 1856. It marks the site of his base camp from which he did a lot of exploration into the surrounding region. The Victoria River here is quite substantial, lined with mangroves but no crocodiles in sight today. We also drove up to a couple of lookouts for a view over the Victoria River floodplain, Timber Creek and the distant escarpments.


Timber Creek is named for the timber cut by Gregory’s party to repair their boat. We called in to the National Parks office in Timber Creek for further information via brochures and a set of display panels. These gave a good idea of the history and natural features of the region. Shortly after leaving Timber Creek, where we refueled and had lunch, we turned off the bitumen heading for the Gregory National park.


The road into the park as far as Bullita homestead is a well formed gravel road. On the way we detoured in to Limestone Creek. Although the campground is closed we were able to see some very unusual kaarst limestone country, including Tufa dams made by limestone deposits in streambeds.

We walked up a track to look at fossil stromatolites, some of which were very large, several metres high and the same across. They were so numerous that some had been broken up to form the path. There were also brilliant white calcite flows in a dry creekbed, and limestone eroded into sharp jagged shapes. On to Bullita homestead, where the flies were the thickest we have yet encountered. In the small campground we met and spent the evening with Barb who is travelling on her own for 3 months to celebrate finishing her Ph.D. One of the real pleasures of travelling like this is meeting a great cross section of people who are sharing the travelling experience. We all enjoy a chat and a chance to share and swap travel notes. With just a few exceptions the folk we have met have been great company.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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