The final chapter on the Gibb River Road – GORGED! and a Wilderness Camp

After we left Manning Gorge we had another stop at the Mt Barnett Roadhouse. We’d had lunch and stocked up there two days ago. Not a very impressive looking building but the best equipped and managed place we found on the Gibb River Road.  We got fuel, water, groceries (double normal prices but good selection including fruit and veg and gluten free bread) and stupidly forgot to fill our LPG (so much to remember!).  

Our first stop was at Galvans Gorge, lovely oasis about a 1 km walk in.  None of these walks are easy as seeing a gorge seems to involve lots of boulder scrambling and means we should always wear walking shoes even if it looks easy at the beginning.  Second stop was on a deserted side road out of sight so Dick could dig a hole to dump the sewer as there are no dump stations on the Gibb River Road.  Third stop was Adcock Gorge, and there were no warnings that it was a very tough 5 km 4-wheel drive road. I was driving and it was one of my toughest 4 wheel driving experiences but we made it with only a bit of panic at one large hole we had to crawl through.  Then we had more difficult boulder climbing as we hiked into the gorge itself.  Another beautiful gorge and we had it all to ourselves.  Skipped a swim here also so just had lunch and moved on to Mornington Wilderness Camp which was an 88 km -2 hour drive off the Gibb River Road. 

Mornington Wilderness Camp is owned and managed by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC); an independent, non- profit organization that works to conserve all Australian wildlife and their habitats through science-based land management programs.  I had heard of their work and wanted to go to Mornington to learn more about it.  They operate a campground, accommodation and a restaurant in addition to their conservation programs.  We got set up in the campground and when our neighbors returned the woman called out: “We know you-its Dick and Pat”.  We had met them at Mitchell Falls so they came in for a visit after dinner and a chat the next morning before they left.  Funny how we keep running into people, but I guess we all have our travels in common.

There is a different feel to this camping area since its all about conservation.  The scenery is not the most impressive we’ve seen but we learned a lot being there. They gave us a booklet that outlines the self-guided drives, and explains some of the work they are doing as well as including pictures of some of the plants and animals we should see.  We hired a canoe to explore Dimond Gorge, as thats the only way to really see the gorge.  The one hour drive to the gorge was along a well-marked self drive habitat trail and the booklet notes were informative and descriptive.  Dick did the 2.5 hour, 5.4 k’s of paddling up and down the gorge, which was very pleasant as we had a hot, sunny day with not much wind.  We saw lots of birds, one lizard and a crocodile sliding into the water.  I had a couple of quick dips before and after the canoe trip as it was a hot day.  On the drive back to camp at dusk we saw a bustard and a feral cat.  That evening we attended a presentation on AWC’s land care management and conservation programs.  It was very interesting to learn about their work across Australia and at Mornington – also very eye opening and scary in terms of extinction rates but also encouraging to hear of the success of AWC conservation programs.  Their work with fire management and their partnerships with aboriginal landowners were particularly interesting.  I hadn’t realized what a problem feral cats were (ie. 20 million native mammals are eaten by feral cats in one night in northern Australia) or the impact of feral herbivores.

Fortunately they had a payphone so I could speak with Amy on her 30th birthday!  Very sorry to miss that occasion.  Then we visited Sir John Gorge and a couple of waterholes along the Fitzroy River, did another self-drive habitat trail, walked the Termite trail and learned more than I could have imagined about termites (ie the queen lays 3000 eggs per day, they can’t survive in the sun, up to one million grass eating termites live in each of the large mounds that dot the landscape and most importantly termites play a critical role in returning nutrients to the soil).  We treated ourselves to a very nice dinner at their restaurant and the next day we finished our visit there with a self-guided creek walk learning about riparian environments (along a body of water).  All in all it was an interesting place to visit and gave us a sense of the important work AWC are doing and how critical ALL the plants and animals are in terms of the the total ecological picture.

As we checked into Silent Grove campsite near Bell Gorge we were given Census forms to complete.  Not knowing a census was happening, it was a reminder that we have no idea of what is going on outside of our life on the Gibb River Road.  Then spent basically a full day at Bell Gorge which is 10k’s from the campsite and a 2.4k return walk to the gorge.  The last section of the walk was a real rock scramble but we made it and had a lovely day sitting in or near the water at the base of a spectacular waterfall.  It felt like we were teenagers spending the day at the beach – I had 5 swims and Dick sat in the water for a couple of hours.  Bell Gorge is known as one of the best gorges in the Kimberley and we happily had over 4 hours there enjoying the view/water and absorbing the atmosphere of the gorge, as well as watching the groups of people who came and went during the day.

 Impressive vertical gorge walls of the Napier Range, 100 meters high,  border the campground and were the first thing we saw when we arrived at Windjana Gorge at noon.  Although the temperatures were in the mid-30’s we did the gorge walk and had it almost all to ourselves.  Windjana Gorge is well-known for three things: geological significance as it was part of an ancient Devonian reef 350 million years ago, cultural significance to the local aboriginal people, and its the best place to see freshwater crocodiles in Australia.  We looked at the limestone gorge walls but couldn’t see any fossils.  We looked at the water in the gorge and saw lots of crocodiles, all shapes and sizes, in the water and on the sand.  We think we saw over 100 crocs in the gorge, some up to 3 meters (10 feet) long and we could walk quite close to them. These are all fresh water crocodiles (“freshies”) which are nominally non-agressive, if not cornered, and generally not dangerous as a contrast to their salt water cousins (“salties”). Signs recommended we stay 5 meters back from them.  The gorge is 3.5 k’s long and we walked about 1.5 k’s into the gorge when the bats (and the heat) got to me.  We saw thousands of bats in the trees and they kept flying over us and screeching and smelling so we turned back.  Walking through this gorge was like all the others in that we are constantly reminded of the dramatic differences in the wet and dry seasons here.  Seeing 20 meter high water marks on the rock walls and huge empty river beds, its hard to imagine how much water flows through these areas in the wet season.

Following a short drive the next day we arrived at Tunnel Creek NP where we walked through a 750 meter tunnel that a creek has worn through the Napier Range (same Devonian reef as at Windjana Gorge).  More squeezing around and over boulders to access the tunnel and then wading through water up to my knees to walk through some parts.  We needed our head torches (to see where to go and to see the walls and ceiling) and our water shoes.  There are bats in one part of the tunnel and we saw one freshwater croc, quite near where we waded through knee deep water.  We then drove our last section of corrugated, gravel road until we reached the Great Northern Highway, where we aired up our tyres for the first time in 18 days.  We are considering this side trip to Geike Gorge, near Fitzroy Crossing (a small aboriginal town), as part of our Gibb River Road experience.

After a catch up morning we drove to Geike Gorge for the 4pm boat tour.  Its been mid-30’s for days, so late afternoon was a good time to see the gorge, which is quite different to the others as its a 14 km long limestone gorge with 60 m high walls, also part of the 350 million year old Devonian reef.  In the wet its floodwaters rise 10 – 12 metres above the normal river level.  The commentary on the boat left a lot to be desired and we are not used to being crowded in with lots of people, but we saw birds and crocs and heard some stories about the gorge.

We have had a great experience on the Gibb River Road and found it all really interesting.  It is listed as an iconic Australian road trip and on our 19 day Gibb journey we drove 1765 kilometers (1675 on gravel/corrugated roads), lived in red dust (will my feet ever get clean?), visited 15 gorges, had 13 swims, saw hundrds of crocodiles, stayed in lots of national parks and met many fellow travellers.  We are half way through our trip and starting to act more like grey nomads – eating dinner earlier, and going to bed earlier but still not so good at the getting up and leaving early.

 

 

Mt Barnett Roadhouse

 

 

Galvans Gorge

 

Digging a hole

 

Climbing over rocks and boulders getting into Adcock Gorge

Adcock Gorge

More climbing in Adcock Gorge

  

Dick paddling up Dimond Gorge in Mornington

 

Canoeing in Dimond Gorge, Mornington Wilderness Camp

 

Dimond Gorge in the afternoon sun

 

Grass eating termite mounds

 

Looking down from the top of Bell Gorge

Pat swimming in Bell Gorge

 

Standing on the rocks where we spent the day at Bell Gorge

 

Climbing out of Bell Gorge

 

Napier Range/Windjana Gorge walls next to the campground

Crocs in Windjana Gorge

Dick photographing the crocs

Pat escaping the bats in Windjana Gorge

 

Windjana Gorge walls

 

Dick in Tunnel Creek (his clothes matched the tunnel)

 

Wading through water in the tunnel

 

Inside the tunnel

 

Geike Gorge, the white rocks show the water level in the wet season

Looking down Geike Gorge

 

Travelling the Gibb River Road – Mitchell Falls to Manning Gorge

Its a couple of driving days to get to Mitchell Falls from El Questro.  We stopped at Ellenbrae Station, famous for their scones, and had the GF vanilla muffins with cream and jam, almost as good!  Shared the gravel road driving to Drysdale River Station (off the Gibb River Road) where we camped for the night.  Then it was four hours of corrugated and rocky roads to the Mitchell Falls campground.  Saw two dingoes, one in a picnic area and one crossing the road.  Stopped at Munurru Campground (aka King Edward River Camp) to check it out and have lunch.  Interesting that all the ‘traditional’ English names in these areas are being replaced by the original aboriginal names and most areas are under joint management between the government and the traditional owners.  We pulled in behind an APT tour bus and some people from the tour came over and offerred us their leftover lunch as it was only going to be thrown out.  So we had tandoori chicken and roasted vegetable salad courtesy of APT.  We also later gave away another bag of their vegetables to a fellow camper.  At that lunch stop on the King Edward River I had a quick swim in a beautiful spot on the river and no one else was there. Magic place! It took 2 hours for Dick to drive 78 k’s into Mitchell Falls campground as the road was pretty rough.  I did 109 k’s in 2 hours, also on gravel and corrugations, so we had a dusty, juddery day and it was too much for the fridge door shelf (gaffer tape to the rescue)!  About 40 k’s before Mitchell Falls we encountered a slide-on campervan being loaded onto a tow truck for the long drive to Kununurra (estimated to cost $5-$6,000 for the tow truck).  A somewhat sobering sight!

Mitchell Falls day (aka Punamii-unpuu) started with a 6 minute helicopter taxi ride to the falls at 10am (and we both figured it was a good way to spend $250).  That gave us lots of time to look around at the top of the falls, have a swim and lunch before walking 5 k’s back to camp in the hot afternoon sun.  The falls were spectacular (four tiers and all had water even though its getting late in the season) and also quite a special place to be in.  We were allowed to swim in the pools at the top of the falls but not at the bottom as it would be disrespectful to the local people since it is a sacred place inhabited by powerful dreamtime serpents; as well as saltwater crocodiles.  We did see two quolls chattering and scrambling over rocks on our walk back.  We did not see the aboriginal artwork under Little Mertens Falls which we walked by.

Started the day by doing the River View walk and then walking back to Little Mertens Falls to see the aboriginal artwork we missed yesterday.  Again we struggled to find the way to get down under the falls but fortunately a tour guide with three clients came along so we followed them down under the falls.  We saw quite a lot of interesting aboriginal artwork, some Bradshaw(Gwion Gwion) and some Wandjinas, and then we found the swimming hole under the falls.  It was lovely and again I had a nice swim.  Dick even got a bit further into the water this time. Another hot, sunny day with clear blue skies and we managed to get in a 5 km walk before we did the two hour, rough road drive back to the Munurru campground.  Stopped at a lookout and another aboriginal art site on the way.   

Ongoing maintenance and repair jobs are keeping the IT support/handyman quite busy, especially after those rocky, corrugated roads when cupboards stop closing, spice bottles empty, sinks get loose, and things under the vehicle need refastening (the magic crawler for getting under the vehicle is proving useful). We checked out the King Edward River which is very lovely but decided against a morning swim before we left the camp.  Stopped at another aboriginal art site; almost got lost in the rocks a la ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ and did see some interesting aboriginal art.  I drove back to Drysdale River Station where we decided to stay as they have laundry facilities.  We finished the day with the famous Drysdale hamburgers for dinner and chats with fellow travellers in the beer garden.  Drove to Mt Barnett Roadhouse/Manning Gorge so back on the Gibb River Road the next day.  One unplanned stop when the CB aerial broke (no wonder considering the corrugations we had been on!).  All passers by stopped to check if we were ok while Dick checked out the damage.  Its a nice feeling that people are looking out for each other, although it is hard to take a pee at the side of the road.  

Another hot and sunny day for our walk to Manning Gorge (6k return).  The walk started by crossing the Manning River in a boat that you pull yourself across via ropes connected to pulleys at both ends.  The walk started out flat and easy but the last 500 meters was climbing over and down large boulders.  We spent a pleasant few hours on the rocks opposite the falls, and I had a swim, Dick had a sit in the water.  Managed another swim in the river near the camp when we got back – very relaxing day.

Corrugations and dust!

 

My river crossing for the day

 

 

A lunch stop on the beautiful King Edward River

 

A private swimming hole in the river

 

The view from the helicopter 

 

Mitchell Falls from the lookout

 

Standing on the edge

 

Swimming above the falls

 

Lovely pools and water lilies on the walk back

 

Aboriginal artwork under Little Mertens Falls in Mitchell River NP

Dick getting into the pool at Little Mertens Falls

 

Pat having another swim, under the waterfall

 

Leaving the King Edward River without a final swim

 

Aboriginal art in the caves

The rocks where we found the aboriginal art (nothing is well signposted!)

Red corrugations on the road to Drysdale River Stn

 

Dick checking out the broken CB aerial

 

Crossing the Manning River via the rope/pulley system

 

Manning Gorge

 

Swimming near the waterfall at Manning Gorge

 

Dick almost swimming at Manning Gorge

 

Tripod photo as no one was near us

 

Climbing out of Manning Gorge