Tunnel Creek

Leaving our limping caravan at Windjana Gorge, we headed down to Tunnel Creek for a day trip.   Like at Windjana Gorge, a river has carved its way through the ancient limestone reef, but this time mostly underground.     Apart from the interesting natural spectacle this provides, it was also the site of the hideout of Jandamarra – an aboriginal freedom fighter who lead a series of non-violent and violent resistance actions against European settlement.

tunnel creek walk

tunnel creek midway
About halfway through the tunnel, the roof has caved in allowing the light to shine down.    There is about 300 to 400m of tunnel either side of this midpoint, so you definitely need torches to find your way through the dark middle bits. In places you must walk through cold water up past your knees in the pitch dark. You just have to feel your way through slowly with the creek bed being rocky in places. We knew there were at least 3 crocs in these pools somewhere, but we didnt step on them in the dark thankfully.
tunnel creek further
Limestone cave formation near the far entrance (or exit) to tunnel creek.
tunnel creek looking back
A large stalactite near the exit.
tunnel creek catfish
These catfish inhabit most of the pools in tunnel creek.   Some of the pools like this one that are fed from a side spring are crystal clear and relatively warm (they felt like they were somewhere in the mid to high twenties).   However further from the spring they became cold and murky. There were also at least 3 crocs in the tunnel but we did not see any or more importantly feel any under our feet walking knee deep in the cold pool!

Jandamarra and the Bunuba resistance.

 

Jandamarra is probably the most famous of the Aboriginal Freedom fighters. He is important because many people have said that Aboriginal people never fought for their land. He is a good example that this was simply not true. From 1885, for 10yrs he led the Bunuba people in preventing colonisation by white people occupying their hill country. This ended with his death.

jandamarra onejandamarra bunuba resistanceJandamarra's last stand

 

 

Plan B (it’s amazing how much damage a worn shock absorber can do).

Just before leaving Mornington we noticed that the chassis cracks that had been re-welded earlier had started to reopen.   Getting under the caravan with a torch, I found that one of the suspension bolts showed signs of having shifted position.   When I investigated I found that it was quite loose and after removing the nut, saw that the bolt has been jiggling around and badly eroded into the upper side of the slot in the hanger.    It appears to me that because of the resultant misalignment from this eroded hole, when the suspension arm moves up and down it now puts quite a high twisting force on the axle bar and this is probably causing it to crack where it attaches to the chassis.

higher view

Given this situation we were rather wary about driving any further than necessary until we could get replacement suspension bolts and bushes and get the hanger and chassis fixed properly – especially on the corrugated Gibb River Road.   So while we had planned to back track a bit to see Manning Gorge, Galvans Gorge and another Australian Wildlife Conservancy property at Charnley River, we now decided to just drive slowly and carefully directly towards Derby, a town of about 3000, which has a specialist welding company that could do the necessary repairs and arrange for the necessary spares to be sent there.   We called Kedron, who agreed to send us the spares, and advised us that if we just tightened up the loose bolt, it was very unlikely to cause more damage and that we need not alter our original plans.   However, while their reassurance made us confident that we could limp all the way to Derby (still about 400km away, 300km on unsealed roads), we did not want to push our luck and do an additional 300km that our original plan would have required.   Getting a broken down caravan put on a truck and taken to Derby would cost about $4000 and since our insurance would cover only the first $1000, we didn’t want to take this risk.

So plan B had us make our way to Imintji, a small Aboriginal community on the Gibb River Road where we spent two nights and left the caravan to do a day trip to Bell Gorge.  From there we moved on to Winjana Gorge (just 20km off the Gibb River Road) and again left the caravan there while doing a side trip to Tunnel Creek.    We then drove on to Derby and upon getting there noticed that the tyre on the wheel which had had the worn shock absorber had started to crack badly where it meets the rim and needed to be replaced.

cracked tyre

gibb river road plan b
Our Plan B route with side trips to Bell Gorge and Tunnel Creek done without Keddie.

OK, to change the tone of the blog entry from doom and gloom, here are some photos of Bell Gorge and around Imintji.

bell gorge jumper
Lower Bell Gorge:  school holidays have kicked off so we shared the serenity with about 100 others!    In this photo some younger folk can be seen jumping off a cliff.     Unfortunately, my nose is not designed for doing this and I usually end up with half the pool in my sinuses.  So, while it looks fun, I tend to steer away from such activity myself – S
bell gorge swim
By incredible chance and skill I managed to get this shot of Maddy alone in the pool below the main falls at Bell Gorge.   About 20 people lie obscured behind the rock ridge on the left and about 6 or 8 swimmers are just out of the frame on the right.   However, all we had to do was walk about 200m upstream (away from the gorge) and we could enjoy some peace and quiet next to a serene section of Bell Creek on our own. 
steve at bell gorge
Dying to get into my swimmers.
roadside black cockatoo
A permanent spring feeds a creek that crosses the Gibb River Road on the eastern edge of Imintji. I went there to look for birds each evening.   On both occasions, this red tailed black cockatoo came to drink from a small muddy pool formed by cars splashing up water at the crossing rather than drinking the nice clean water just metres away.   It obviously likes the taste of mud, rubber, oil and brake shoe dust.
leaden flycatcher male
A male leaden flycatcher at the crossing
imintji sign
Our campsite at Imintji was immaculate and managed by the community.
imintji campsite with the king leopold ranges
Our spot at Imintji with the beautiful backdrop of the King Leopold Ranges.    The open hatch behind the caravan’s wheel houses the fridge compressor.    The little fan on the door of this hatch has started to give out, so we leave it open when camped – it seems like we are discovering a new problem every day. 
health education at an aboriginal community
Diabetes is a major problem in the aboriginal community so this sign tries to raise awareness of the risks of processed drinks.
Victoria head Napier Range
From Imintji, we continued on to Winjana Gorge, which cuts though a 300 million year old limestone reef that runs for several hundred kilometers in the western Kimberley.   This feature, called Queen Victoria’s Head, lies at the point where the Gibb River Road passes through this reef about 20 km north of Winjana Gorge – the subject of the next post 

Kalumburu and Sunset Beach

From Munurru we followed the track north through the Aboriginal Community of Kalumburu and on another 20km to a beautiful laid back beach camping area with great sunset views called McGowans Sunset Beach where we have set ourselves up for 5 nights.  The photos below speak for themselves. Every night we all get our chairs and head down to the beach to see what colours we they will get at the sunset. It is a show every night. With all the “controlled burning” smoke in the air the sunsets are even more spectacular.

 

It’s all about fishing here. We are the only ones not fishing. Every man, woman and child has a rod in their hand or have a boat and are out in it when the wind settles down. It’s a good thing we still have fish in the freezer!

crocolidile sunset
Unfortunately the beautiful inviting waters are home to these guys too so swimming has to be approached very cautiously.
fending off crocs with your feet
Basically the procedure is to find a nice shallow bay with a rocky sentinel on one side where you could see crocs approaching, send someone up with polaroid glasses to keep watch and take a photo of the daring deed, then wade in up to your thighs and take a quick refreshing dip, but don’t stay too long.

 

On the first day we headed back into Kalumburu town and ended up getting the same two things we got when we visited the Ngukarr community a few weeks ago: a painting and a puncture. At least Steve’s auto garage had a great view of the beach!

 

While in town, Maddy also visited the women’s centre to discuss some secret women’s business, while I queued for some diesel.  On the way out we stopped for a look at the lower part of the King Edward river near town and some world war two plane wrecks at the end of the Kalumburu airfield.

kulumbaru womens centre
I spent an hour here chatting to the girls about life. They started out quite shy but it didn’t take long before we were chatting like a “bunch of girls”. No men allowed in here. The women do crafts and artwork here to sell and cook for the 11 people in the aged care facility. It is a “work for the dole” facility.

 

While it is interesting visiting such remote places the drawback is the lack of information available.  While the site was informally sign posted there was no background on why the planes were there and no-one seemed to know either.  There was a small museum at the mission in town which had an interesting collection, but again, the information was a bit patchy. We do know that the Japanese bombed the old Pago Mission near here thinking it was a military installation during WW2. 5 people died. The mission was moved to Kalumburu due to more reliable water.

health centre kulumburu
The Kalumburu health clininc is run by 2 nurses with a Dr visiting once a week.

health centre signlucky prizes for blood sugar check

flu vax sign
Enter a caption
bribes to get a health check
The nurses are trying hard to get the girls to come in, even giving away prizes!

We went for a few walks in either direction from our camp here. The Kimberly Coast is wild though and does not want humans to walk along it. It is mangroves and mud flats or rocky outcrops to get around or crocodiles along the shore to avoid. This is why the luxury cruise boats do so well here with few roads that lead to the coast line and those being pretty rough. It seems only fisherman are willing to make the trip overland. The fishing up here is like nowhere else we are told.mangrove walking

early morning on the mangrove mudflats
Low tide is good for a run across the mud flats to look for some oysters
shells in a huddle
These shells are on many of the paintings in the art centre as they are bush food. They seem to like to huddle together on the beach.
spiky vegetation
It’s either one type of spikey vegetation or another up here but interesting looking.

 

 Maddy takes photos of hospitals so I thought I better also show interest in my career and take photos of mobile phone base stations too. Here is one of Optus’s satellite base stations which does not work so well in this town with a population of 400.

Optus small cell

honeymoom bay
Honeymoon beach 15 min drive down the road
mcgowans island panorama
Mcgowan’s island where we went to find Oysters
osprey
Osprey
looking for oysters
Looking for oysters
oystering
We were allowed 3 each. Glad we had a screw driver and a hammer.
oysters
Our catch!
oyster entree
Cooked in butter, garlic, salt and pepper with a squeeze of lemon! Great with a cocktail!

 

 

 

Mitchell (helicopter) Falls

About 100km north of Drysdale River Station along the Kalumburu road is the turnoff to Mitchell Falls.    After spending a night at the lovely Munurru campsite on the King Edward River near this turnoff, we left the caravan there and headed 75km west along the hideously corrugated Port Warrender road on a day trip to Mitchell Falls.

wyndham to kalumburu

Mitchell Falls is one of the icons of the Kimberley region consisting of 4 tiers of falls dropping off the plateau into a gorge below.   The falls are certainly impressive – even after one of the worst wet seasons on record.    They lie at the end of a 4.5 km one way walk from the car park so most people take helicopter trip which drops them at the top of the falls for a while.   With growing numbers of visitors, the operation has become quite a circus with 3 helicopters almost continuously ferrying people back and forth (and it looks like up to 5 are on hand for when it gets real busy).    One can either treat the helicopters as part of the spectacle or consider them an annoying din, but we knew what to expect so went with the right mindset.   Also the helicopters operated as a group, so there were occasional periods where there was some silence.

The unpleasant corrugations of the Port Warrender Road were somewhat offset by the beautiful Livisonia eastonii palms

The start of the trail to the falls is marked with a sign that grossly overstates the time needed to do the walk – maybe to help the helicopter business!

Some birds seen along the walk – Rainbow Bee-eater, Broad-billed Flycatcher and variegated fairy wren.

Aerial photo map of the trail and falls area.   The classic view is from the cliff on the north side of the big lake near the upper red caution marker.    The trail itself was actually quite straightforward and well marked by these posts with starbucks coffee mugs on them.

cute water plants
nice water plants in Mertens Creek along the trail 
upper mitchell falls
Panorama from the top of the falls.  Upper pool and the first tier on the left and the pools between the lower tiers on the right
top pool mitchell falls
View from the top of the falls
dngerous river crossig
No good Aussie walk is complete without a good smattering of warning signs.
Mitchell falls bottom
Panorama from the classic view point
tea at mitchell falss
Lunch spot at the falls.    Brochure photos of the falls in the wet season show the falls as one continuous cascade

Around the falls and swimming at the top pool

three choppers
Helicopter mayhem – dropping people off at the top of the falls.    The TV travel shows make it seem like you will be dropped off alone at the top of the falls with picnic to enjoy in peace and solitude.   The reality is that you will be one of hundreds of visitors per day.

After enjoying the views followed by lunch and swimming in the pools above the falls we walked back to the car stopping off for another dip in a pool along Merten’s Creek where there was some good aboriginal art on the surrounding cliffs

After a long day it was then 2 hours back to our camp on the King Edward River, a beautiful serene spot we will mention in the next post.  There is a cramped dusty campsite near Mitchell Falls at the start of the walk, but we would trade the dust and chopper noise for the two hour drive any day.

weeee
The road back was not only corrugated,  it also had some steep windy bits.  However like the signs at the start of the walk this one was also over stating things a bit.

So long Wyndham, thanks for all the finches.

Today we set off down the Gibb River Road after 5 fantastic days around Wyndham.  We might never have come here if we had not heard Stephen Pigram singing “Crocodile River” at the Port Fairy Folk Festival.   While the food at the five rivers club that is mentioned in the song was nothing to rave about, the town has a lovely frontier feel about it and the surrounding countryside is beautiful.    Thanks Steve for providing the inspiration.

Before setting off we went for a final finch viewing behind the Wyndham caravan park where we heard they can be seen in large numbers.  We were not disappointed.

Firday morning 6 am
Friday morning 6am – 6 keen finchers ready for the action.  
finch swarm
First sighting – yes those are all Gouldian Finches
tree full of finches
Gouldians by the treefull 
drinking hordes
A few seconds later the hordes dropped down for a drinking frenzy.   So much fuss over a couple of dishes of water surrounded by rocks to make the photo’s look better.
panic
Did someone say “last to leave picks up the bar tab?”

more gouldiangouldian branch

double barred
This time it was the other finches like these double barred finches that provided a break from the monotony of gouldian finches

red and blackdrinkingclump of gouldians

gouldian finch close
Honestly, this was not in a bird cage.
heading for a drink
Did someone say free drinks?

gouldians with zebra

brown quail 2
A shy brown quail also tried to muscle its way to the bar.

For the next 4 to 5 weeks we will be exploring the heart of Kimberley in an area where there is almost no mobile phone coverage, so there won’t be many updates.   Optus has satellite fed small cells at a couple of remote communities and fortunately we brought an Optus prepaid dongle with us, so if we can get it to work we might post an update.   However we have found that these small cells sometimes don’t really work (I think they become overloaded very easily) so no promises.  S

Purnululu and Warmun

About 200km south of Kununurra is the world heritage listed Purnululu National Park also known as the Bungle Bungles.   Although it was a bit out of our way the scenery is pretty impressive and it is near the aboriginal community of Warmun, which is also worth a visit to see the ocre based art works they produce.

When we visited Purnululu 16 years ago, the 55km access road was extremely rough with some hectic washed out creek crossings and tricky maneuvering required between trees, so with this memory we decided to base ourselves at the dusty caravan park near the main road and drive in without the caravan.   Well, in 16 years things have certainly changed.   It is now a well formed gravel road and albeit quite windy, I expect that it would be passable in a normal two wheel drive car if you took a bit of care on the handful of slightly rocky sections.     It would have been no problem getting the Kedron into Purnululu.    Having said this, there were some corrugations on the first 10km or so – but by no means bad.   So maybe they get a bit worse later in the season and people possibly use this as a basis to perpetuate online adventure stories about the “atrocious” access road that we had read that also put us off trying.

Anyway, not having the luxury of a caravan to sleep in, I was not keen to camp in a tent in a busy, dusty camping area so took the opportunity to do an overnight walk up Piccaninni Gorge into the heart of the Bungle Bungles range.    I am certainly glad I did this.   The first 8 km. followed Piccaninni Creek as it winds through the amazing beehive formations that make the Bungle Bungles famous.  It then enters the gorge itself with its spectacular 200m high cliffs and white sandy creek bed dotted with lime green vegetation and occasional rock pools.   The photos below really don’t do any justice to the place.     I spent the night camped on the sand under the stars (those that could be seen between the cliffs), then explored the upper parts of the gorge in the morning before returning.

bungle and creekbed
The water worn bed of Piccaninni Creek with the famous Bungle Bungle beehive hills behind 
creek and bungles
The beehives are formed from eroded sandstone.  The orange layers being oxidised iron on the surface and the dark layers being formed by a surface layer of cyanobacteria.   The sandstone itself is normally white as can be seen in the creek-bed.   
gorge at sunset
On entering the gorge, the creek-bed becomes sandy and although it’s hard walking on soft sand with a backpack – it was nice and shady. 
black rock falls pool
Black Rock Pool – the largest pool in the gorge.   It sits against the south facing wall of the gorge and was very cold.   So it wasn’t too hard to obey the no-swimming request.  
hiking up piccaninni gorge
Looking for a nice camp spot further the gorge – anywhere would do really, but I was after an east-west section of gorge where the moon would provide some light in the evening.
gorge camp
A nice simple creek-bed camp 
gorge stars
Piccaninni Gorge camp view by the light of the crescent moon.
gorgeous morning
Radiation from the gorge walls kept the valley nice and warm all night.  Even though the temperature was forecast to drop to 9 degrees overnight in the surrounding areas, I never really needed my fleece jacket – even in the early morning.
gorge junction panorama
Piccaninni Gorge Panorama at the junction of side gorge 1 – where there was also a nice warm sunny pool.
gorge pool
Further up the gorge the sandy floor was often replaced by these eroded rock gullies  
gorge termite mound
Interesting termite mounds cling to the rock and have little access tunnels leading over the rocks to the soil.  
morning gorge scene
Although there were plenty of foot prints, I had the place to myself (ignoring the occasional scenic helicopter flights passing overhead)
side gorge tree
Trees and palms in side gorge 5
bungle termint mound
Star-trek was before my time, but I guess this is a Klingon
white quilled rock pigeon 2
There were plenty of birds including white-quilled rock pigeon, but the only mammals I saw were feral cats (3 in total).
creek and bungles 2
More beehive formations on the walk out.
cathedral gorge
Just before returning to the car park, I took the short side trip up Cathedral Gorge.  As it was later in the day, the big tour groups had all left so I managed to get this rare panorama shot and selfie below without the normal hordes.    There were still quite a few people about – I only had it to myself for about 2 minutes.

cathedral gorge 2

After driving and spending a final night at the caravan park, we dropped into the art centre at the Warmun aboriginal community.    We had visited briefly 16 years ago and were keen to spend a bit more time there.

We had a great time and were shown around by the very warm, friendly and informative Lindsay Malay and his wife Marika Riley who are artists there and had fortunately opened the art centre on a Sunday morning for a tour group (who never seemed to show up).

Unlike many other Aboriginal art styles which use acrylic paint, the Warmun artists use traditional ocres which can be seen in the buckets below.   As a result they have a earthy colours and texture.   While we got a couple of photos of some painted rocks outside the art centre, we didn’t feel comfortable taking photos of the artworks inside the gallery.   Even though we left with an investment ourselves, it has been very carefully wrapped up so we don’t want to unwrap it to take a photo ourselves.   However it is by an artist called Phyllis Thomas who passed away late last year and some of her works can be seen here: https://warmunart.com.au/art/artists/senior/phyllis-thomas/

From Warmun, we headed back up north to our next destination, but passed some interesting fat termite mounds on the way.    When viewed from one side, the one below reminded me of a diprotodon (an extinct giant wombat).   From the other side Maddy thought it looked more like a giant sheep that had missed several musters and had accumulated many years of overgrown wool.