We were still waiting for parts from Kedron so we left our problems behind in Derby and headed for the horizontal falls!
The horizontal falls is the name given to a natural phenomenon on the Kimberley coast first described by David Attenborough as “one of the greatest wonders of the natural world”. It is a fast moving tidal flow through 2 narrow gorges (one 20 metres and the other 12 metres), of the Mclarty Range which is on a wild remote area of the Kimberly coast. Tides in this area can be 10 metres, so it’s easy to see how this can occur. We had been told by friends from Darwin that we HAD to do this trip and they raved about. IT WAS AMAZING! Thanks Rick and Louise! M
We met all the other people we would be spending the next 24 hours with. We were a group of only 11. We had a nice group of people who were mainly grey nomads traveling. We also met the resident sharks and heard about the bull and reef sharks that sometimes show up. Then we jumped in our speed boat and headed over to see the falls around the turning of the tide. On this tour we were to see both an in going and out going tide but we were also taken out this first time to see it comparatively flat, so we could see the difference. The boat had 3x 300hp motors, so that we could sit in between these narrow gaps in the rock with turbulent water and whirlpools everywhere. You needed to be very skilled with the boats to hold them in this position. Louie was a pro!I think he was a NZ jet boat driver in another life and gave us a bit of speed now and again which was a lot of fun. M
After the excitement of speeding through narrow gaps in gorges at full speed with the feel of a roller coaster at times, we went for a slow cruise up Cyclone Creek into a bay and did a bit of fishing near the mangroves. We were told we already had dinner sorted but we could catch our entree if we liked. There were a few keen fisherman on the trip hanging out to wet a line. There were also 2 newbies like Steve who had a go. M
Cyclone creek is so named because it is a very safe harbour. The old pearlers used to bring their boats in this bay during cyclones for safety. This business does the same thing in the wet season when there are no trip for 4 months. The boats and pontoon and left up here and spend a good deal of their time sitting on mud at low tide so there is less decrusting of the bottoms of the boats. M
We then headed back to the falls to see the outgoing tide. It was now 2 metres high and it was now unsafe to squeeze through the narrow gap only being safe up to a metre. It was pretty exciting just having the boat sitting just outside getting very close to the rocks and in the middle of the turbulence. M
And if all THAT wasn’t exciting enough, we next went on a helicopter ride to view the falls from the air a bit more slowly. The 2 choppers from the pontoon came to pick us up and take us up for the sunset. M
We got up very early the next morning to see the sunrise on the speed boat out in the bay and returned for a relaxed breakfast. It was a bit cool but a lovely way to start the day and this fantastic trip. If you are up this way, it is something worth saving up to do. A trip you wont forget. M
Another annual event at Boab Festival time is the Mowanjum Festival. This is held out at the Mowanjum Aboriginal Community, not far from Derby on the Gibb River rd. The community comprises of people from three different language groups, the Wororra, The Ngarinyin and Wunumbul. Traditionally language groups did not live together. All these people were moved off their different lands when white man came along and took it. No longer able to live their old way of life on these now mostly cattle/sheep properties some worked for the new land owners (on their old lands) as stockman, drovers or kitchen hands or maids. Others were moved onto church missions. Eventually these missions were closed and the three groups of the area were moved (yet again) to a combined community of their own. This is Mowanjum. The festival is a celebration of their culture and to share their culture with outsiders. Everyone seemed to really be enjoying themselves, particularly the older dancers who took the dance very seriously.
We started at the cultural centre and art gallery. I saw a paining I REALLY would have liked but managed to get back out the door without it. We have repairs to pay for now!
Well we are stuck in Derby waiting for parts. There is only one caravan park here and it is not bad as caravan parks go. It is full of people who have just come off the Gibb (many doing repairs or cleaning the dust out of everything) or are about to start it. We probably would not have come here otherwise, but it’s probably the best time to be in Derby, as we are here for the Boab Festival. The first night here we went to the “Mardi Gras” street parade which looked like it attracted the entire town. There were numerous floats, the police, fire dept, SES, local business owners, aboriginal health service etc. We lined the main street watching and had candy thrown at us from the people on the floats. You’ve never seen so many gray nomads picking up lollies off the ground! I even saw patients out the front of the hospital, out on the street with a nurse with them watching.
The next night we were off to the Mary Island fishing club for the crab races. Marine Biologist Lesley back in Sydney, will not be happy about this. Never having been to a crab race we were not sure what to expect. We bought a “racer” crab for $10 and tried our luck. We named it speedie. The winner got a crab pot with their crab in it which we planned to give to a fishing nomad neighbor at the caravan park.
We thought we had to see what a crab race was about. I did feel sorry for the crabs in the end though. Apart from the terror of the race they all ended up in a pot after all that racing and were eaten at the BBQ later. We couldn’t eat any crabs that we had met, so we went down to the wharf for the sunset and to eat other sea creatures at the restaurant there.
Next we headed to Windjana Gorge but not before seeing our first dressed termite mound in Western Australia. I thought this was quite a nicely dressed one too. Almost too nice. I thought the shirt might look good on Steve!
Windjana Gorge cuts through a 300 million year old limestone reef. It’s towering rocky walls border a sandy creek bed that normally contains many pools of water that are home to what is probably the largest concentration of freshwater crocodiles in the country. When we were there, the river bed had been reduced to just 3 pools due to the preceding poor wet season. In contrast when we visited 16 years ago, there were numerous pools all the way up the gorge. Of the 3 remaining pools (and one tiny puddle) – two were teeming with crocodiles, especially the first one where I counted over 120 crocks.
A short eared rock wallaby next to the entrance of the gorge
Having seen over 300 birds so far on our trip in the past 8 months we actually saw no new birds at Mornington. After spending 6 weeks or so in the northern savanna regions, means we have probably seen most of the easier birds to see in this type of environment. It was however, a very birdy place and doing wonderful things for the Gouldian finches and Purple crowned fairy wrens in this area of the Kimberly among other things. On our last morning we did the bird tour with ecologist Riannon and had an amazing 2 hours spent at a rather dismal looking water hole that was only days away from drying up. It was however a bird magnet and we saw a huge array of different birds. M
It was a pretty amazing 2 hours despite not seeing a new type of bird! M
The Australian Wildlife Conservancy is the largest private (non profit) owner of land for conservation in Australia protecting endangered wildlife across almost 6.5 million hectares. We wanted to see first hand what they were doing that was different to give them such success and why they are miles ahead of Govt agencies which are now watching what AWC are doing. We headed to one of their sanctuaries in the Kimberley – Mornington – where they also have a wilderness camp. M
Mornington have only a limited number of camping sites there and even though we booked about 5 weeks beforehand we were not able to get in on our preferred dates, so we skipped a couple of attractions on the Gibb River Road with the intention of backtracking to visit them afterwards. However we did stop for the night near Barnett Gorge which lies on the aboriginal owned Gibb River Station and went for a late afternoon walk to the gorge itself. Being a lesser known gorge it was great to have it to ourselves. S
One of the resident Ecologists gives a talk every second night to let people know how they operate and where their donation money is spent. The AWC operates almost entirely from donations with a budget approaching $25m per year and staff of approximately 120. You can see that they don’t want to say anything disparaging about the government conservation bodies and indeed, they are eager to work with them and help were possible. However, reading between the lines it seems that a combination of red-tape, conflicting political agendas, lack of accountability and misdirected efforts cause inefficiencies and poor outcomes in the government bodies. S
We learned here that Australia is a world leader in mammal extinctions. 31 species have gone extinct since European settlement and a further 56 mammal species are threatened with extinction. The main drivers of this crisis in Australia include invasive species (particularly feral cats and foxes) inappropriate fire regimens and feral herbivores ie cattle, horses, donkeys etc. We should be ashamed of such a record! And every year Australians are spending more and more money on domestic animals while our natives go extinct! M
AWC leads the way in new models for conservation. Issue 37 of their wildlife matters newsletter outlines their strategy. They aim to
– Deliver science based land management
– Construct a network of large scale fenced areas to secure the future of threatened species.
– Invest in strategic research
– Pursue long term solutions to control key threats to wildlife, such as gene drive technology in partnership with the CSIRO.
Mornington is currently working with the CSIRO in trying to tackle the very difficult task of getting rid of feral cats. Cats are very difficult to trap or catch and can eat 5 birds/ small mammals etc in ONE night of hunting! Once cats can be eradicated/controlled this will go a long way in slowing the rate of decline in our native animals/birds.
Spinifex termites are amongst the largest in the world and large ones can be over 100 yrs old.
Termites are natures nutrient recyclers and play an essential role in soil preservation and encourage plant growth. All these aspects make them important to the AWC. They help them in healing the land.
We did a few activities at Mornington and had a look around the property. After the termite trail we headed out to Sir John Gorge for a walk and sunset. On the way we stopped at Blue Bush water hole. It had shrunk to a small billabong with less than 1/3 their normal summer rainfall last wet season. It was still good for a swim and a swing on the rope swing which was a lot of fun. Here is Steve showing his style which was much better than mine.
We also took the opportunity to go for a paddle through Dimond Gorge. Yes that’s how they spell it. This gorge is formed where the Fitzroy river carves its way through the King Leopold Range and provides a scenic paddle under the sandstone cliffs. Again, being terribly dry, the Fitzroy River, which normally flows all year round had stopped and the water level in the gorge was about 1.5 metres lower than normal and not quite as clear as it should be.
We left Mornington feeling very impressed with the AWC and confident that their donated funds are being well spent. We will certainly continue to support them going forward.
We left Kalumburu and headed south again and back to the Gibb River Rd. It is amazing how fast many people drive on the Gibb. Steve and I drive like Nanny and Pop in comparison. We have Jayco caravans speeding past our “off road” caravan at sometimes double our speed. The amount of dead tyres left on the side of the road is staggering and I guess there would be some people who have shredded a tyre and take their rubbish with them, making the count even higher! This is just a fraction of what we saw on the road. We have now done 27,500 kms and have yet to do a tyre on a dirt rd. I probably should NOT have said that! M
It costs $3500 to tow a car back to civilisation. If you cant afford that, you leave your van or car on the road and it becomes artwork. Shredded tyres are found all along the road. M
The blue prado above was a roll over and all the camping gear was just left on the road. We were told it was two cars travelling together and probably driving too fast. One couple we talked to, saw 3 of these on their 2 weeks on the Gibb! M
On the way we noticed a chain hanging loose underneath the caravan. Not sure how many hours it was under there smashing away but when Steve got under to have a look and saw that there was a problem with one of the shock absorbers. We headed to the only place we could go and that was to Over the Range Tyre repairs about 2 hours away. Neville and Todd were fantastic. They were just the nicest guys that went out of their way to help you. Neville’s wife Leoni was also helpful and their 4 yr old daughter kept me entertained for the 5 hours we were stuck there. M
While Todd was under there he noticed cracks in the chassis. Todd welded these for us.
It could have been 5 hours of hell but Neville and co at Over the Range made it such a positive experience for us and we cannot speak highly enough of them. M
Little did we know that the worn shock absorber had actually caused some more serious damage to the suspension which in turn was continuing to place stress on the chassis. This made it crack again after another 100km or so, but that is the subject for another post. S