The Kimberleys

August, 2014

Somewhat suddenly we decided to leave the cold in the mountains and Sydney and visit the Kimberley region. We managed reasonable flights on Virgin to Broome via Perth, returning the same way, and rented a four-wheel drive for the two weeks.
Our friends, the Ropers, helped us plan this trip, having traversed the area a year before. We all found the Hema map essential.
Night one was in the Mercure in Broome, as we arrived late. It was very different from the other Mercure hotels in which we have stayed - perhaps taking on a Broome character - dusty and outbackish. We ate at the Mercure pub - not much good, but cheaper than horrendously overpriced restaurant meals and probably not much worse.
Day one in Broome was spent stocking up. Beryl had engaged in lengthy virtual communication with Matt from Kimberley Camping and Outback Supplies after we determined that it was cheaper and better value to purchase our camping equipment for the two weeks than to rent. During the virtual conversation, Matt and Beryl had debated what size tent, whether to get a stretcher or a mattress or both, what cooker to purchase etc. Ultimately we ended up spending more than we intended, but we did not regret it, especially the Coleman 6 person Instant Tent, a queen size stretcher, two new sleeping bags to be used as a mattress, and a variety of other essentials, most of which we were able to bring back to Sydney.
We had included in our luggage, sheets, towels, a camping mat (gift from Sally last Christmas), throws, basic cutlery, and a microwave plastic container for cooking vegies that travelled with us to the USA and South Africa last year. There were no microwaves where we camped but it helped as a container for eggs limiting damage from breakage on the rough roads!
At Target and Woolies we stocked up on fresh, boxed and canned food, and purchased a decent esky (chilly bin) which meant we had much more fresh food than we expected. Ice is purchasable at most petrol stations.
We treated ourselves to CDs - we may have purchased the only classical music available in the Broome music shop - The Magic Flute, Cosi Fan Tutte, the Marriage of Figaro, and three Mozart symphonies.
Boab trees are a feature of the landscape, and indigenous prisoners were kept in the largest of these, partly because they could obtain water - we visited one just outside Derby.
The first night was spent in the Derby Kimberley Entrance Camping Site. It was very crowded, but we were given a reasonably sized site, with trees, and away from the generators (all factors that one has to aim for).
Setting up the new "instant" tent was a "walk in the park" compared with our previous one.
That evening we watched birds and the sun setting over the pier.
We then cooked our first meal on our new equipment - steak and mushrooms, and a pan full of vegies (beans, broccoli, sprouts, and carrots). Helped by a glass or two of red wine, we slept quite well on the comfortable, but squeaky, new double stretcher. The most memorable feature of the camp was the red dust - on everything - our tent and all goods. The showers were hot, with very good flow, much better than in the hotel.
The next morning we packed up (also so much easier with the Coleman Instant Tent), topped up the food with more green beans and fresh meat, and headed for the first part of the trip.
Shortly after starting on the Gibb River Road, we spent an hour at the Mowamjum Art Centre.
This is a closed community, and its story is probably best obtained from their web site: Mowanjum Arts Centre
We watched the video, and ended up purchasing a painting by Samantha Allies/Wungundin, who is only 19, but has recently won the Kimberley Art Award. It seems we were the 5th person to purchase one of her paintings in the previous few days. Her execution is very good. Although we are aware of the impact of white occupation of Australia on its indigenous people, the Mowanjum story brings home the devastation of having one's land taken. Although this is a closed community with land that they now control they feel that they are on someone else's land, not their own.
It was an important way to start the trip through the Kimberley region, and we continue to explore the fraught history of relations between the indigenous owners, the cattle station owners and the West Australian Government. A book by Steve Hawke "A Town is Born : The Fitzroy Crossing Story" is instructive (Magabala Books, 2013). The Hema map shows the various boundaries referred to in the book. The meaning of these boundaries on the map only became clear on reading Hawke's book. A review of the book is at: A Town is Born
The first bit of the Gibb River Road was OK, with a single strip of sealed road, so that one had to move onto the red dust whenever passing. Beryl spent much of the trip switching the air conditioner back and forth between external and internal circulation. Then the road deteriorated, and it is hard to find words to describe how bad the corrugations were. We are yet to work out what the right speed is to minimise the shaking. We felt sure the car would rattle to pieces, and the luggage seemed to bounce around in the back. Thank goodness the eggs were in the microwave dish in the esky.
The scenery was boring most of the way, so the Napier Range was a comparative novelty, as was Queen Victoria's face.
We took the 7 km road (which was even worse than the Gibb Road if that is possible) to the track head for the short walk to Lennard River Gorge. The walk in 49 degree heat (1.5 km) return with a small hill was a welcome relief from the car travel, and we enjoyed that more than the actual Gorge scenes.
There remained a 1.5 hour drive on the Gibb River Road, and the turn off to Silent Grove for our second night of camping. Setting up the tent was a breeze, but we did include the fly rain cover, just in case. It too was easier to manoeuvre than the very large one we have back in Sydney.
The showers were cold (they relied on solar heating, so hot showers were best in the middle of the day), but cleaning up was good, given the red dust we had carried from Derby. The sand here was brown, and less sticky!
As we had two nights at this campsite, we took time out to read before heading to explore and hike in the Bell Gorge, and swim in the famous pool with a waterfall. Pictures provide a sense of the vegetation, dry rivers and the gorge.
Food on this stay followed the general pattern of fresh meat and vegies when we could, but otherwise the microwave packaged meals, heated in our pot and pan on the butane stove, worked well.
Most of our camping neighbours had been at the camp for several days, and were very social, inviting us for drinks and nibbles on the park bench that was next to their tent. Not much to talk about other than camping and places one had been to or intended going to.
We were alerted to the kangaroo pies at Imintji, which is where we had to head the next day for diesel. After waking to the dawn chorus of birds, and the routine of packing up, we did try these pies, and were able to get access to the internet and email Selwyn and Rose - all for a price. We stocked up with a few fresh vegies - the most expensive we have ever bought.
We drove back on the awfully corrugated road to Windjana Gorge, where we set up tent in a site with a view of the spectacular rocks.
The gorge provided a much welcome three-hour walk, and lots of fresh water crocodiles and straw necked ibis and other birds.
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We also saw the first of the great bowerbird nests - adorned at either entrance with small rocks to keep the feet clean.

The Imintji vegies with the next of our microwave meals tasted good.
We discovered that one of the neighbours in the camp site had set up a massage table next to the water tap, and was getting custom from the visitors who were complaining about sore backs from the bad roads.
Next morning we walked through Tunnel Gorge.
Jandamarra was killed here.

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One had to wade through the water (up to thigh level, with crocodiles) to get to the other side of the tunnel, where we saw more fresh water crocodiles. Our shoes and socks got wet, and mistakenly Beryl walked in those at the Geike Gorge (accessed from Fitzroy Crossing) and ended up with blisters.


The basis for the geology in this area was laid down in the Devonian Period. Windjana Gorge, Geike Gorge and Tunnel Creek cut through limestone ranges that form part of Western Australia's Devonian "Great Barrier Reef", which was deposited about 360 million years ago when the area was covered by tropical sea and Australia was part of Gondwanaland. The reef is now exposed, lifted by plate movements and has been eroded over the last 20 million years.
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Fitzroy Crossing is the 'big smoke' in the area, with grass camping, showers, washing machines etc., and an IGA (Independent Grocery). One company runs the hotel liquor outlet, campsite and the IGA as well as the petrol station. Everything is horrendously expensive, but then the source is probably thousands of kms away, and brought to the crossing by Road Train - we had to negotiate many of these three of four trailer vehicles on the roads. The Hawke book provides an insight into the crossing today.
The campsite provided opportunities for birds and roos.
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We made better progress than anticipated, and negotiated three nights at the Bungle Bungles (Purnululu) National Park. One has to book ahead, as the camp sites get very full. We stayed in the northern site, Kurajong, which was a good decision. The road was much better than the Gibb River Road, although we had been warned otherwise. Apparently it had just been graded. One did need a four-wheel drive to get through the creek crossings.
Over the two days and three nights in Purnululu, we did almost every walk - the Domes, Cathedral George, Whipsnake Creek and Piccaninny Creek (in the Southern Part).
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The next day we did Stonehenge, Homestead, Echidna Chasm and Escarpment Walks (on the Northern end). Walking was flat, but not fun because mostly it was on rocky or sandy river beds - not good for blisters.
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At Homestead Gorge we saw the second of the bowerbird nests.
We also took a helicopter flight over the park - expensive but a good decision. Pictures tell it all, showing the great "mesa" of the Bungle Bungles, the extent of Purnululu, the incised gorges and the rock formations including the domes.
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The pilot was well informed and we learned much from him about the extensive park, many aspects of which are not accessible on foot and not open to the public because of indigenous heritage issues.
Purnululu National Park (falling limestone) is 240,000 ha, and comprises four ecosystems: the Bungle Bungle Mountain Range (from "Bundle Bundle", a description of the cones, or from "Bungle" - mountain - as in Warrumbungles, named by aboriginal trackers brought from the east to help explore the territory); sand plains; the Ord River valley to the east and south; and limestone ranges to the west and north (the Osmand Range, wooded and of Cambrian age - 500 million years - of volcanic origin with stromatolites). The Devonian quartz sandstone was created by sedimentation, compaction and uplift (collision of Gondwanaland and Laurasia 300 million years ago and convergence of the Indo-Australian and Pacific Plates 20 million years ago followed by erosion). The plateau is dissected by 200 m gorges. Cone towers have a fragile surface stabilized by crusts of iron oxide and cyano-bacteria. Erosion is due to extreme rainfall and flooding during the wet season, and wind and sand from the Tanami desert to the east during the dry season. Glass Mountain to the south provides radiocarbon evidence of 20,000 years of occupation, with human activity thought to have commenced 40,000 years ago.
The Osmand Range
We camped for three nights in Purnululu (Bungle Bungles) with minimal amenities, but the setting was great, and we were relatively private. We bathed in our $1 bucket - Rose had suggested that this is what one has to do when camps don't have showers. Thank goodness the weather was warm, although nights were surprisingly cold.
Kununurra was the next stop. There was not much of interest between Purnululu and the next big smoke, except a few road houses such as the one we experienced early on our trip. Doon Doon had diesel and pies, and mobile access. We were able to call Selwyn.
We thought we had chosen a good tent site and camp at Kununurra, and had stocked up, showered, and settled down to our now routine camping meal. But we had not realised that the camp was inundated with French back-packers. We learned the following morning that the spot we had chosen was known as the French Kitchen - the backpackers (probably really nice young folk) partied long into the night.
We packed up a day early, got a refund on our second night (the managers seemed to know it was a problem), and headed to Lake Argyle, created by the Ord River Dam - the largest dammed lake in Australia, that has transformed agriculture in the area. From an engineering perspective it was interesting, as the wall of the dam seemed very small, yet the geography allowed for the huge water holding in the lake.
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More recently they have added a hydro electric capacity to serve the local towns.

We then headed to El Quaestro to camp for two days. It is about 50 km into the Gibb River Road from the east, but on some sealed and good dirt roads. The site we had for our tent was magic, and we were able to watch birds through the native river vegetation.

After arrival we did the Telegraph walk (short but with a bit of a hill) with views of the settlement.

The next day we managed a 6 hour walk (Champaigne Trail), that was hard on feet because of stones and sand, but the waterfall, pools and spring at the end made it worth while - best walk of the trip.
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The camp was packed, probably because it was a Saturday night, and they had music entertainment. This time, we chose a site as far as possible from the action. It worked.
On our way out we visited Emma Gorge (a two hour walk, but well worth it).
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Then the long and somewhat boring trip back to a stopover in Fitzroy Crossing - one becomes grateful for some civilisation in the midst of this vast expanse.
Given that there was not much between Kununurra and Broome that we had not seen we kept driving, arriving in Broome a day ahead of schedule. We did not enjoy Cosi Fan Tutte, but the Magic Flute and the Marriage of Figaro were OK. We did lots of crosswords.
Broome camps were full, and we were very lucky to get an OK site in a cramped park, but with good facilities for packing up and cleaning for the trip home. We had negotiated with our travel agent and Virgin to take one extra bag each (the tent and the stretcher), which only cost us $35 per bag, even though they were oversize (but under 20 kg). Working out how to put the genie back in the bottle (the tent and its pegs and rain sheet back in a small bag) had occupied lots of attention over the previous weeks as we practised packing up. But we managed.
We decided to take a flight to the Horizontal Falls and Cape Leveque on our spare day - not cheap, but it was worth it. We now don't feel the need to revisit this area, having seen from the air what the bays look like, the falls, and much that the 'top end' has to offer. The only other way of seeing this is more driving on dirt roads (not on), or expensive sea cruises.
Horizontal Falls
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Even though our sightings of the Horizontal Falls were time limited, one does need to see them to understand the effects of the massive tide changes in this part of Australia to provide gushing horizontal water, at its most impressive when the tide is either half way out or half way in.
On our flight we saw other highlights, obtained a sense of the vastness of the Kimberleys, the impact of the cattle stations on what is traditional indigenous land, King Sound, Buccaneer Archipelago the Islands, the impact of the vast tide changes, and the wonderful contrasting colours at Cape Leveque (rocks, sand, sea, vegetation etc.), where we were able to fit in a good walk.
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Our photos are not professional, and thanks to David, we have a web link to amazing photos of the area - we saw lots of this, but did not capture it as well. Kimberley Photographs
That night we ate out at the Wharf Restaurant on the Deep Pier in Broome - the fish was just wonderful and the view great.
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We had planned to stay up to see the 'staircase to the moon', a mirage created on the mudflats when low tide coincides with a rising full moon on Roebuck Bay, but we were too exhausted and decided that we could imagine it. The crowds had turned out for it, with police presence, traffic control, all of which felt a little too like Sydney.
On our last day, we packed the tent and stretcher and re-sorted our suitcases to include new purchases, then took a shower (essential as the tent was very dusty), dropped off residual camping gear and tinned food at Vinnies, and then took a tour of the Willie Creek Pearl farm. The dirt road there was a red dust rut.

Having visited the Broome Museum, we were aware of the importance of pearl farming in the town's history. It is not a good story with much exploitation of the indigenous people, and then Japanese and Chinese workers being imported given that the indigenous divers worked out that this was a deathly job. The Japanese at least took control patenting the artificial pearl cultivation process, although many pearl divers lost their lives due to pressure to perform without taking into account the effect of the bends. Once a decompression chamber was introduced, deaths started to drop off. Eventually an Australian worked out an alternative way of cultivating the pearls, which seems to be what is being used at Willie Creek and also Cygnet Bay, we think.
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The visit to the museum also educated us on the extent to which the Japanese bombed the allied forces at Broome at the end of WW2. We had known about the Darwin bombing, but the devastation was so much worse at Broome. Cable Beach, the main beach in Broome, is so named because it was the entry point for the main cable for communication to Australia. Broome is obviously strategically important, and is now the base for the 'fly in and fly out' activity associated with mining.
Then the long flight back, clean up, and sleep.
It was an important trip, not nearly as much fun as our three weeks in the USA National Parks, but then we did not camp in the USA. The rock formations in the Utah parks are hard to beat, and the roads are so much better. Although we enjoyed the gorges in the Kimberly region, there is much travelling to get between them - flying is the way to do it if one can afford it. Nevertheless, it was important for us to gain at least a modicum of an understanding of this part of Australia, including the impact of Europeans on the indigenous population.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 4.03.
On 26 Aug 2014, 16:32.