Broome and the Dampier Peninsula

And now for something completely different – the return to towns and caravan parks!  We left Fitzroy Crossing and drove to Derby.  Stopped to see the Boab Prison Tree (while I was talking to Amy on the phone) where prisoners used to be kept, checked into a caravan park (CP) and the visited the Derby jetty.  That seems to be the main thing to do in Derby which experiences some of the highest tides in the world (in excess of 11 meters/36 feet).  The jetty was the place to watch the sunset and eat at the fish restaurant there, which we did.  On the way to Broome we visited Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Cultural Center, where we watched an excellant video explaining all about the Wandjina or God for the local aborigines.  I bought two books there to read more about aboriginal history in this area.

Got to Broome in time to knock off some errands and shopping.  It all feels quite familiar as we were here last August.  Had four nights in Broome so managed to take full advantage of ‘city life’ – lunch and dinner out, shopping to top up my wardrobe with ‘Broome warm weather tops and sundresses’, manicure/pedicure to get my feet clean, found nice boab earrings at the Thursday night markets and for Dick trips to the hardware stores and repairs to the CB antennae.  Seems fair to me!!  We also walked along the famous Cable Beach and had a couple of meals with our friend Geoff from Port Macquarie. In true grey nomad fashion we joined in the pizza night at the CP, which meant sitting in our chairs under the clothes line listening to a fellow on the guitar and eating wood fired pizza from a mobile van.

It was a 220 km, 3.5 hour drive up the Dampier Peninsula to Cape Leveque, the first half on corrugations and the second half, in aboriginal lands, on bitumen.  On the way we called in to the Beagle Bay community to see the Sacred Heart Church with its pearl shell altar.  The church was built by hand by aborigines and missionaries in 1914-1918 and is still being used by the local community.  We camped at Gumbanon, an aboriginal-run campsite on the coast just past Cape Leveque.  It was a pretty coastal setting but we were not impressed by the hosts and it was very crowded, so we moved on after one night.  Stopped at Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, the oldest Australian, family-owned pearl farm operating since 1946. After having lunch in their restaurant we did the Pearl Farm Tour, conducted by a 4th generation aboriginal pearler who grew up on the Cygnet Bay property.  We learned a lot about farming pearls and the history of aboriginal involvement in the pearling industry; plus a demo of pearl grading.

Headed back down the peninsula to our next camp, Embalgun (aka Smithy’s Seaside Adventures).  This aboriginal host was much nicer and helped us park in a good spot close to the water. Took a pleasant walk along the beautiful beach here and are going to sleep to the sound of the tide coming in.  Woke up to another beautiful sunny day and had a real rest day (Dick would call it a ‘Dick Stresau Day’ as that equals do nothing).  Had a quick run into the water to cool off before lunch, read a book and then did a 6 km walk up the beach (and back) to the red cliffs at the end.  Got back just as the sun went down over the beach.  The next day we moved about 5 km along the beach, after having lunch with Geoff (who was in the area) at Whalesong Cafe, a very nice place situated on that same beautiful beach. We had booked three nights at Pender Bay Escapes in a private campsite with a bath tub (perhaps the only one in Australia).  Its on top of a cliff overlooking more of that beautiful beach/coastline.  So we can sit in the bath and look for whales in the ocean.  Had another couple of rest days, a few walks on the beach, a few quick swims and one night we enjoyed local smoked mackeral (caught that day). After three days here we are the cleanest we’ve been since we left home.

Finished our time on the Dampier Peninsula with two nights at Kooljaman at Cape Leveque, which is owned and run by the aborigines.  It is called a wilderness camp but has the feel of a well-run resort.  We booked a beach hut campsite so are close to the swimming beach.  Had a good walk along the beach and a swim as the water is lovely. Checked out the sunset from the restaurant near the beach on the other side of the point, before treating ourselves to an amazing dinner at the restaurant.  The Michelin- trained Irish chef uses lots of bush foods in an array of interesting, creative and very tasty menu offerrings.  We shared two entrees, then another two entrees (so sampled a good portion of the menu) before finishing by sharing two desserts.  Very decadent and NICE! Then we had our second campfire for the trip.  The second day we had to move to a different beach hut, so after checking out and before we could check in again, we visited One Arm Point aka Ardiyooloon, (an aboriginal community).  We had to get permits to visit ($15 ea) and could then drive around, look at their beaches and visit the fish hatchery, which is a working aquaculture centre where fish, Trochus (shells) and other marine life are bred and then released back into nature.  A young aboriginal guy did our tour and gave some interesting insights into how they fish and what fish they like to eat, as well as lots of facts about the fish in the tanks.  The town had a good feel about it, lots of the tourist material was prepared by the school students, houses and yards were neat and tidy and they had a well-stocked community store.  Back at Kooljaman we got a much better beach hut;more private and closer to the beach with great views.  Had more swims in front of our hut, more beach walks and saw the sunset over the Western Beach with its red cliffs.  Very relaxing!! Before checking out I did an early morning beach walk and was just going to have a quick dip when I met a woman who just got stung by a stinger/jellyfish.  Gave her some vinegar and decided to skip the swim.  Completed the corrugated road back to Broome without incident, so will now get ready for the next stage going south down the W.A. coast.

Visiting the boab prison tree while talking to Amy


Sunset at the Derby jetty


Pizza night and music in the Broome Caravan Park


Afternoon stroll on Cable Beach


Many casualties like this along the corrugated road to Cape Leveque


Beagle Bay Church with pearl shell altar
End of day drinks at Embalgun camp


Walking up the beach to the red cliffs
A small patch of palms along our beach walk and beautiful red sand
Made it to the red cliffs at the end!
Sunset over the beach as we walked back, and made it just before dark.
The view from our campsite at Pender Bay Escapes
 Our campsite at Pender Bay Escapes
First bath in three months or making full use of all facilities!


Sunset at the Pender Bay campsite


Heart Rock on Pender Bay beach
Swims in Pender Bay 


Kooljaman camping with a beach hut


Breakfast in the beach hut


The swimming beach and our campsite


Sunset at Cape Leveque
The cliffs glowed in the sunset



Sunset at Kooljaman/Cape Leveque (that’s Dick sitting in contemplation)


The final chapter-Gibb River Road – GORGED! & 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