Gibb River road, days 1 & 2, Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek

The road from Derby to Windjana Gorge campground was good, much of it was bitumen, and the dirt sections of the road weren’t too corrugated. We arrived at 9.15am, and clearly our advisers from the night before hadn’t been exaggeration – the place was massed with prickles and burrs.

We quickly set up the camp with the gorgeous rock walls as our backdrop, and made a cuppa before heading down to check out the gorge.

Gorgeous backdrop to our campsite.

Windjana Gorge is famous for it’s population of freshwater (or Johnstone) crocs. Freshies as they’re colloquially known, are not normally dangerous to man, although if cornered or feeling threatened they have been known to inflict some nasty wounds. They’re far more likely to do themselves severe damage in the process though as their snout is thin and relatively fragile compared to their more dangerous counterparts, the dreaded ‘Saltie’.

Nothing to fear from being reasonably close to ‘freshies’.

Lots of crocs around the billabongs.

Distinctive narrow snout indicating a ‘freshie’.

It’s okay to swim in Freshie territory, providing one keeps a respectable distance from any crocs. They’re usually timid anyway, and will more than likely slink off if humans are swimming nearby. However, Windjana Gorge has murky water with muddy banks, so it’s not inviting for a swim.

Firstly, a walk though an amazing rock crevice to get there.

Rock crevice to walk through.

Sunlight peeping through at the other end of the crevice.

Then an hour or two marvelling at the rock walls, crevices, and crocs.

Reflections.

Gorgeous natural rock sculptures – a Kookaburra!

How on earth does a tree grow through the rocks….

Back to camp for a quick bite of lunch before heading off to discover Tunnel Creek – only we took a wrong turn and ended up back at the highway. We quickly backtracked and headed to where we thought Tunnel Creek should be. The road had no signage, and it was getting towards mid-afternoon. After driving for what felt like way to long, we decided we’d better head back to camp, check our directions and start again the next day.

Although it’s warm during the day up here in the Kimberleys, it is still winter, with winter hours of daylight, and often, cold nights. By 5.30pm it’s well on the way to being dark, so we tried to cook while there’s still enough light to see what we were doing, and what we were eating. However, that made for long nights when camping with a tent. On our first night we hadn’t gathered any wood for a fire, so after two hours of sitting in the cold and dark, admiring the stars we decided to call it a night – it was around 7.30pm……

Daylight broke around 5.30am, so it was a long, and very cold night. We were grateful we were under warm canvas rather than in a cold nylon tent, grateful for our feather sleeping bags, and very pleased we had bought the super duper Black Wolf bonded air mattresses. They didn’t let the cold air come through thankfully, so it turned out we didn’t need a wool blanket underneath us, thankfully. However, we should have paid more heed to other advice given, Paul’s air mattress went down in the night. He thought perhaps he hadn’t sealed the bung properly, and with fingers crossed, he adjusted that for the next night – more on that later.

As it turned out we had only been a few kilometres short of tunnel creek, so we had needlessly turned back. All the information on Tunnel Creek advises the need for a powerful flashlight. I had read this to Paul several times, and he had seemingly taken it on board, stating I could use the powerful blue flashlight kept in the car, and he’d use his headlamp. Upon leaving the car, I verbally confirmed that Paul had picked up the required torches, but neglected to visually confirm. We arrived at the entrance to Tunnel Creek where Paul donned his headlamp and passed me my flashlight, not the powerful blue flashlight from the car, but a tiny thing, the likes of which one would expect to find in a Christmas cracker.

Never mind, we ventured forth with what we had. Paul’s headlamp was adequate, my Christmas Cracker flashlight left a lot to be desired. It barely lit the area of my immediate foot fall, but didn’t have the power to light up the way ahead. More importantly, it didn’t light up the gorgeous, grand, cavernous surrounds that Tunnel Creek is famous for, and what we’d come to see.

After a bit of rock scramble to get passed the entrance of the tunnel the walking was relatively easy, although we did have to wade through several areas of almost knee deep water.

A fellow visitor wading though the creek.

It took around an hour to get to the other end where we sat with several other people enjoying the tranquility of the creek gently flowing back the way we’d come.

A peaceful place to rest before retracing our footsteps.

Wildlife to admire.

We then swapped lights and retraced our footsteps. On the return walk, with the use of a brighter light I managed to see the intricate rocks and stalactite formations that makes this place famous. It was truly gorgeous.

Awesome.

Stalagtites (to help remember which is which – the mights go up, and the tights come down!)

On return to our camp we set about gathering some firewood and enjoyed the delights of flickering flames to watch as well as the stars after the sun went down. There’s only so many hours though that flames and stars can keep one occupied. We were again in bed not much after 8pm, so another long night, and one that showed Paul’s air mattress clearly was punctured!

So – with days one and two completed, what we would do differently if we were doing it again:

1. We’d take heed of advice given, and postpone leaving Derby by a few hours in order to purchase a tarp for under the tent to prevent puncturing the air mattresses, (and a broom and dustpan).

2. We could have comfortably done both the Gorge and Tunnel Creek in one day. There’s not a lot to do at the days end when sleeping in a tent in the outback, so the days need to be full and tiring so as early nights are appreciated, rather than something to endure. If we had delayed leaving Derby for a few hours and purchased the advised supplies we would have saved ourselves some minor grief later. We could have set up camp, had an early lunch, then set off for Tunnel Creek (with a better sense of direction), and we would have still had time to explore the gorge in the late afternoon. Saying that though, we still enjoyed it all.

Boabs and anthills

When the landscape is dominated by Anthills and Boab Trees, you know you’ve reached the stunning Kimberleys.

Boabs framing an anthill.

These bottle shaped trees are green and leafy in the wet season, and drop their leaves once the dry arrives. This year they didn’t seem to be sure what season it was.

This one with a split trunk seems to still think it’s in the wet season.

A well watered area lacking wind protection has created this leaning tree with full green canopy.

The ancient, and infamous, Derby Prison Tree.

One of many anthills that dwarf me.

Before commencing the Gibb we drove to Derby and set up our tent for a trial run in a caravan park. We had this marvellous idea that a test run in a town before we actually commenced the Gibb would give us a chance to recognise any obvious gaps in our equipment allowing us a chance to shop for any items obviously missing.

Meeting a couple of fellow travellers completing the Gibb having started at the Eastern Kununurra end assisted with us identifying the gaps. These were as follows:

1. We’d need a tarp for under the tent, particularly at Windjana, and possible at Manning campground. Both were apparently massed with burrs and prickles, and we’d be sure to puncture our air beds without some added underfloor protection.

2. Make sure we carried a small broom and dustpan with us for brushing out the inside of the tent, and for brushing the debris off the outside when packing up.

3. Make sure we have a warm wool blanket for under our mattresses as the nights are freezing, and the cold air comes up through the mattresses.

4. Mornington Wilderness Camp was the highlight of this couples trip. As limited numbers are allowed in at Mornington, we should phone and try to arrange at least a couple of nights there, and prioritise this in our schedule above all else – these sentiments were reflected in the comments of other travellers the whole length of the Gibb.

So, what did we do – we woke up around 6am on the day of commencement on the Gibb river, eager to get started, and three hours before the shops opened. Nah!! we decided we’d manage without the tarp, without the small broom, without the wool blanket, and without phoning to book into Mornington……… A decision we later regretted!

By 7.10am we were on our way.

Quick update on the Gibb

Thought I’d post a quick update to let everyone know we finished the Gibb River Road today. We now have a couple of days to re-group, do some washing, and a grocery re-stock before we head off on the next leg with the tent, which is up to Cape Leveque.

We’ll try and get started with downloading photos and getting some posted before we head back into the dark ages again (no internet or phone cover up at the Cape).

We’ve had an amazing time, and seen some amazing scenery – awesome!!!!! We’ve been shaken about on roads with deeper corragations than I’ve ever seen. Someone measured the depth in one place at 15cms (6 inches). They were like speed humps. We’ve breathed in more than our fair share of dust, and it’s likely going to take at least a week to scrub that same dust out of our pores.

We’ve seen broken down cars, caravans and camper trailers being recovered and transported out on the back of flat bed trucks, and we’ve seen cars taped together with duct tape, or strapped up with luggage straps. We’ve seen people with their arms in slings, or hobbling with broken toes or twisted knees or ankles. I’m happy to say though that both Paul and I, and our car seem to have survived relatively in tact – not even a puncture. We’ve yet to clean the dust from the car – with the dust off a few dents or scratchers could possibly be revealed.

We’ve driven down four wheel drive tracks, the likes of which make the ones chosen as extreme during our four wheel drive courses look like novice tracks. I’ve uttered more ‘Holey Moleys,’ inter-laced with expletives than I’ve ever uttered. But we’ve done it, and we’ve loved it.

Details and photos coming soon, so watch this space.

Final preparations for the Gibb River

This will most likely be my last blog post for a few weeks. We’re unlikely to have any cover for phone or for the net after we leave Derby tomorrow night, so won’t be able to make, or receive phone calls or emails from anyone. If anything occurs that’s urgent, we’re heading to Derby tomorrow to stay overnight, then heading in an Easterly direction across the Gibb River. I’m sure the police will locate us via the grapevine if the need arises, but I’m sure that’s not going to be necessary…

Our itenary has changed a little as the planning has progressed. As it stands at the moment we expect to be making our way towards Drysdale Station over the first few days, then we’ll be at Drysdale for 20th and 21st June, Parry Creek on 24th and 25th, Bungles, 26th and 27th, Cape Leveque 30th June – 4th July, then Banana Wells from 4th July – 8th. Then back into Cable Beach. We hope we’ve allowed enough time.

It’s going to be a bit of a trial to fit everything into the ute most likely, that’s this afternoons job. Then, tomorrow morning we have to move the food from the main caravan fridge to the portable Engel fridge, that’s going to be an even bigger trial.

We’ve decided eating out where possible is the way to go, and for the times we’re in a campsite relying on our devices, we’ve kept our meals simple. We’re only taking one little portable gas ring with disposable gas bottles, one large lidded frypan, and one small saucepan. The saucepan is for boiling water for hot drinks and washing dishes. The large frypan is for all dinners, which will be one pan affairs.

I’ve made and frozen bolognaise for four nights, which I’ll heat up with some fresh zucchini (courgettes for my European readers). Then when it’s heated through I’ll stir through some pasta which is also pre-cooked and frozen. I’ve chopped some chicken thighs for another four meals, which I’ll stir fry with some spices, carrots, cabbage and canned pineapple, then add a little bit of rice (also pre-cooked and frozen.) Hopefully it’ll be a reasonably edible sort of fried rice. I’ve previously tried freezing the bolognaise and pasta, or rice dishes as a whole. They re-heat very well in a microwave, but in a frypan they end up all mashed together, so now I freeze the pasta and rice separately to stir through at the last minute.

For the remaining two or three meals I’ll make a bechamel sauce in the large frypan, then add some defrosted, pre-cooked brown rice, some dried peas, a small can of corn, and a can of tuna. When it’s heated through sufficiently, I’ll turn off the gas and top with tomato slices and some more grated cheese, and leave it till the cheese melts. If I was making this at home there’d be fresh veges in it, and at the end I’d pop it under the grill to brown,  but this trip is going to require improvisation. In fact all the meals are very much improvised from what they’d be if I was cooking them either at home, or in the caravan. if there’s one thing I’ve realised over the years, it’s that cooking is more of art than an exact science – so having to improvise appeals to my artistic side!

For breakfast were taking a couple of tubs of Greek yogurt, which we’ll have with either some soaked prunes, or canned peaches, and topped with chopped nuts and seeds. Lunches and snacks will be either corn thins or vita wheats with cheddar cheese and chutney, or with canned fish and sliced tomatoes and cucumber. We’ll be taking some fresh apples and mandarins too. All very basic, but I’m sure we’ll get though, and will be looking forward to a proper home cooked meal, and a nice big fresh salad by the time we get back to Broome in almost a months time.

We’re only taking our alumium travel mugs for tea and coffee, and we’re not taking any glasses. I suspect the things I’ll miss most are China cups, our crystal wine glasses (yes, we travel with crystal wine glasses in the caravan), and a ready supply of ice for my water. Those little luxuries will be all the more appreciated when we return.

I’m going to keep an old fashioned travel diary to record the trip, so as I can post about it accurately when I return. Paul’s taking the camera, so we should have plenty of photos too. Yeh! Number one bucket list destination is about to be experienced. Sooooo excited! Watch this space, I suspect there’ll be plenty of the best photos yet coming very soon…..

Broome’s own Jurassic park

We took a sunset flight on a Broome’s hovercraft, Big Bird yesterday evening, curtesy of Alice and Paul (this years birthday present). And yes, it is ‘a flight’, and not, ‘a ride’. The hovercraft hovers approximately 3 feet above the ground, so it is technically flying, and the person directing it is termed a hovercraft pilot.

Big Bird

I must admit, although I’d heard of dinosaur prints in Broome, I hadn’t really taken much notice. I think I had a certain of amount of scepticism too – thinking it was perhaps a lot of hype. After all, wouldn’t footprints, no matter how big and deep, disappear over the passage of time? Seemingly not, and we’ve now seen the proof, proof which was absolutely clear.

We were the first to be picked up from our accommodation at approximately 2.45PM. Our driver quickly whizzed around Broome picking up the rest of yesterdays tour, and after the usual safely information, we boarded the craft. Our pilot, Miles, visually, and quietly, assessed us (for weight) as we boarded, and directed us to where we needed sit. Apparently, weight distribution is important. Then we were on our way.

Big Bird is housed at the top of a ramp overlooking Roebuck Bay. I’m not sure if it’s possible for them to be flown in reverse, I think Miles said not. Anyway, he did advise it slides of it’s own accord down the ramp and onto the Roebuck Bay mudflats. It felt like we were travelling very slowly, so we were all surprised to hear we had been flying along at around 40 kms per hour. We were lucky enough to be seated on the left side of the craft, and yesterday, most of greenback turtles resting on the mud flats where on our side.

Greenback turtle resting on the mudflats.

We came to rest on damp but firm, tidal mud flats across the bay. Miles then took us to where nine footprints of an adult dinosaur are, plus several smaller prints that have been identified as a juvenile of the same species. Miles did say what type of dinosaur it’s been identified as, but the name escapes me now. It has been identified as a herbivore though, that I remember that much. Apparently these foot prints were made approximately 120 million years ago, how awesome is that.

To demonstrate the regularity of the prints, Miles picked nine of us to each stand in one of the adult footprints. They were definitely a regular distance apart, and one could almost visualise the huge, gentle giant meandering through the clay with her feet sinking several feet with each and every step. Clearly, from the small footprints, the juvenile was wondering along in the care of it’s parent, presumably it’s mother.

I don’t begin to profess an understanding of how the footprints came to be preserved, but from the explanation given, I have a vague idea. It involves solidification of the mud, and the rising up of Gondwana…..Ha, that much I got!  Those nine prints are something that have to be seen. Photographs couldn’t show the regularity that demonstrates clearly what they are.

Next, Miles showed us two more footprints, these ones on a higher rock shelf. In these ones it shows the compression of the foot prints. Paul’s attempted to photograph these. Knowing what it is, we can clearly see the absence of the layers caused by the compression, but I’m not sure it’ll be evident in the photo to anyone who wasn’t there to see it in person. Anyway, see what you make of it….

Giant foot print

Apparently, the Kimberley region, and particularly around Broome, there’s an unparalleled number of dinosaur tracks, Australia’s own Jurassic park. 21 species of footprints have been confirmed, with one of them being the only confirmed evidence of the Stegosaur. Additionally, the largest footprint ever recorded has been found here. By contrast though, no skeletal remains have been found here. Apparently, the climate here means the bones would have been broken down but the elements and literally would have turned to dust.

After the science lesson, we were presented with a glass of bubbly, and a table was set up on the mud flats with a fantastic variety of canapés as the sun set. We hardly needed dinner when we arrived back at our caravan park.

If you have an interest in pre-historic life, then this tour is a must. And if you don’t have much of an interest in pre-historic life, I’m sure this tour would tweak your interest. It certainly did for us. Dinosaur stories will never be the same again – it’s given them a reality that goes way beyond the Jurassic Park movie.

Entrance Point – Broome

Our last stop before reaching Broome was at Stanley, a roadside rest area 211 kms south of Broome. As far as rest areas go, it’s up there with the best in WA – very roomy, clean loos, and it even has some concrete slabs.

We’ve now been in Broome for four nights, and we’re loving it. We’ve been enjoying lots of walks, swims and drives along Cable Beach. We’ve given the van a rough clean to get the worst of the red dirt off, and we’ve shopped and restocked.

Yesterday morning we enjoyed a long walk along Cable beach in the morning, followed by a half hour on our boogie boards. Nice gentle waves with little danger to young children and grannies – perfect for me. After lunch we made a list of the Broome beaches to peruse during the afternoon. We’ve never spent long enough in Broome before to have time to explore much beyond Cable Beach. We expected to tick all the beaches off in one afternoon, and didn’t expect any would tweak our interest enough to warrant a second visit as an occasional alternative to the stunning Cable Beach.

How wrong we were. We didn’t get past the first beach on our list. Entrance Point, is near the Port and Broome fishing club, a good place to throw in a line (i’m told preferably on an outgoing tide – unusual). The beach is firm packed red sand at low tide, and with several boat ramps, a perfect place to launch a boat. Such an interesting place to walk, full of rock formations that arguably rival, and in my opinion, surpass the famous rock window at Kalbarri. We spent the entire afternoon at the one beach, so the other beaches on our list will have to wait for another day.

Entrance Point is a popular place for weddings and wedding photographs. Here’s why:

Low tide on the beach, looking though a gateway to the ocean.

Giant rock cliffs.

Caves visible on the low tide.

One of the many windows.

It was while Paul was photographing this that a couple of dogs out for a walk approached me with their owner. As always, I was eager to say hello to any little hair balls and give them a pat. The owner was most apologetic when they barely gave me a cursory ‘how do you do’ before scampering off. Apparently nothing gets in their way of them exploring all the little nocks and crannies this beach has to offer. It was easy to see why, and I can’t wait to bring our own little fur ball back there next year.

This window had a perfect natural window sill with green strata layers.

A perfect natural frame for your loved ones.

The receding tide hadn’t yet reached these rocks.

A door way through which to view the ocean.

And another window.

An interesting beach to walk along, lots of hard packed sand between the ground rocks.

Towering, stand alone, weather sculptured rock formations.

Gateway to ocean.

Just like an interesting garden with windows framing points of interest, walls, windows and doorways leading visitors to yet another vista – Entrance Point has it all. No wonder it’s famous for wedding photography, so many natural frames. Im sure a landscape gardener couldn’t have planned it better. As if Cable Beach isn’t enough, Entrance Point, a total contrast, full of interest, different – and just as perfect. A real pleasure! We’ll be back.

 

 

Dampier to Pardoo Station

On our second day at Dampier we took a day trip to Point Sampson, for research. And what are we researching I hear you ask? Dog friendly caravan parks! Paul and I have decided after almost a 1/4 of century of being dog free that it’s time to add a four legged companion to our household. We’re both extremely fond of cats, but cats aren’t as practical as caravan travelling companions, nor will they take kindly to the occasional few nights being pet sat at Alice and Paul’s when the need arises, and I’m sure there will be an occasional need. We have our name on a waiting list for a miniature Labrodoodle. It’s almost a nine month wait, a bit like waiting through a pregnancy, and almost as exciting.

We’re spending much of this trip researching pet friendly accommodation in the North West, and yes, having a pet is going to restrict both where we can stay, and where we can go for day trips. So far we’ve found between Perth (but not Perth itself) and Carnarvon will be a breeze. The Winter Sun in Carnarvon will be perfect for a week or two for sure.

There’s plenty of overnight free stops that are good enough for a night or two between major destinations. We just need to determine the best places to put on our list for longer stays of a week or two. We’ve worked out Point Sampson looks to be the nicest of the pet friendly parks in the Pilbarra. There’s nice beaches there for playing with a dog on, good for a paddle or a swim too, and certainly good for fishing. So, Point Sampson will most likely be our 2nd major place to stop after Carnarvon on next years trip. While at Point Samson we called at Tata’s restaurant for a light lunch – good service, a pleasant lunch, and interesting decor, and so, so clean.

Life sized horse sculpture at Tata’s

and beautiful ocean mosaic wall.

Meanwhile back at the caravan park in Dampier the corollas were waiting for Paul to return. We’d no sooner returned to camp and sat outside with a drink when one came visiting.That’s what you get when you give them a nut or two, they remember for the next night. Several watched from the trees while the first one came in to test the waters. Yep! once it was established that Paul was indeed a ‘soft touch’ for the second night, the whole family/flock quickly descended upon us. I’m not sure if some had found water to have a good bath in, or if some had just taken a dust bath.

Clean and white

Clearly this one’s been enjoying the Pilbara dust

‘Soft touch’ Paul

Next stop,  Pardoo Station which gets great reviews for being pet friendly. As it turns out it wasn’t a good week-end to try it. Being a long week-end in WA, every man and his dog from Port Headland, only about 100 kms away, had decided to have a fishing week-end at Pardoo. It was jam packed. We were lucky to get a site, many that arrived later in the day weren’t so lucky and were turned away.

The station was in the middle of mustering, bringing the cows into pens directly opposite our caravan for re-tagging. Being confined to small holding pens after roaming free on the station didn’t make for happy cows. They bellowed their discontent well into the night. The wind was up, in fact, it was blowing a gale, carrying the noise, along with the smell of a couple of hundred penned cows directly towards the campers – but one has to expect that as a possibility when camping on a cattle station. Obviously the cows needs must come before the needs of the campers, and rightly so.

We drove down to the beaches to check out fishing spots. The tide was out, so what we saw I’m sure didn’t do justice to what the spots would look like at high tide. Perhaps, we’ll give it a second look one day, but for now from our first impressions, and despite the glorious sunset on our last night, it hasn’t made next years list.

As the sun drops over Pardoo

And dips a little further, turning from yellow to deep red

Tonight we’re camped in a free roadside camp at Stanley, approximately 200 kms from Broome. It’s a great overnighter with heaps of space and plenty of level areas for parking on. There’s lots of tables under shelters, and the toilets are in reasonable condition. A good, clean freebie before we head into Broome tomorrow is most welcome. After tonight, we’ll be paying Broome’s ‘high season’ prices of more than $50 a night. The caravan parks  fill up despite the high prices, so the cost is just a reflection on how much people love Broome – including us. Can’t wait…..