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.
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.
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.
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.
OK, to change the tone of the blog entry from doom and gloom, here are some photos of Bell Gorge and around Imintji.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Around the falls and swimming at the top pool
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.
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.
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
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.
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.