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