Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy

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

mornington wildlife conservancy

radio for mornington
You radio Mornington before you head down their 88 km “driveway”, so they know if you don’t make it.

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

the mornington rd
The road into Mornington took us 2.5 hours from the main road, but it was scenic.
mornington road views
Views from the 88km driveway into Mornington

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.

national sanctuary network
The sign has not kept up as it is now 6.5 million hectares
gouldian health check sign
Mornington is doing great things for endangered Gouldian Finches as well as now having one of the largest populations of purple crowned fairy wrens in Australia. Steve saw dozens close to camp all with tags on their little ankles.
termite trail sign at mornington
Finally someone who understands termites and how important they are and has dedicated an entire walk to them!
termite trail
Sooo excited about the termite trail!
termite hole home
Some species of kingfisher, parrots and reptiles nest in termite mounds.
termite mound up close
Up close they resemble elephant skin

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.

baby elephant termite mound
A spinifex termite mound on Mornington which I will call the  “baby elephant”
huge termite mound the wave
This one is called the “wave”.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

sir john panorama
Sunset panorama at Sir John Gorge.  Below: other scenes at Sir John Gorge and an Olive Backed Oriole that also came over to admire the sunset

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.

crimson finch 5
Crimson finches came to the campsite each afternoon to eat the grass seed off the ground
bar shouldered and peacefull
After a day we discovered a little waterhole hidden in the bush just 10m from our campsite.  Here a bar-shouldered dove and peaceful dove – both very common all over northern Australia came down to show off their contrasting sizes.    If you are wondering what they sound like, the larger bar-shouldered dove makes a sound that has been described as “move over my dear”, while the peaceful dove goes “woodle wook”
steve looking for birds
Admiring a red-backed Kingfisher on a kapok tree with the impressive Fitzroy bluff in the background.  OK not as impressive as Fitzroy in Patagonia, but a lot warmer.
red backed kingfisher
With both birds and mountains to look at, what more could you want?
bower bird bower mornington
A great bower bird’s bower.  This one didn’t feature any toy hand grenades like the one we saw at Lawn Hill Gorge.
anniversary dinner
Our visit to Mornington co-incided with our wedding anniversary and in keeping with our tradition of having a fancy dinner to celebrate, we splashed out and ate at their dining area.  The food was excellent – beef cheeks – even more so considering the location

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.

Over the range tyre and mechanical repairs- Gibb River Road

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

over the range tyre and mechanical repairthe sign on the gibb pulls you in

here we go again
Here we go again! Todd checking the shock absorber.


While Todd was under there he noticed cracks in the chassis. Todd welded these for us.

tyre sculpture
Tyre art
nevile fixing someones tyre
Neville checking a dead tyre. He showed me what they look like inside when you drive on a tyre with a puncture. They get filled with “Kimberly Snow” as he called it. Tiny black flakes of tyre off the side wall. These don’t look so bad from the outside but become very dangerous to drive on if you just repair it. M
kimberly snow
Kimberly “Snow” inside a dea tyre

over the range

groovy vehicle
An interesting vehicle sitting at the shop


todd hard at work with the angle grinder
No this does not look good! Todd with the angle grinder.
todd at work
Welding the cracked chassis

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





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
looking for oysters
Looking for oysters
We were allowed 3 each. Glad we had a screw driver and a hammer.
Our catch!
oyster entree
Cooked in butter, garlic, salt and pepper with a squeeze of lemon! Great with a cocktail!




Kulumburu Rd Munurru Camp and cultural sites

We left the Gibb River Rd and headed north on the Kulumburu Road. Anna back in Sydney said we “HAD” to see Mitchell Falls and so we were heading there. We stopped the night a Drysdale Station at their bush camp. It seemed everyone wanted to camp next to the flush toilets and showers and beer, so we had the miners camp waterhole to ourselves a few kms from the homestead. The next day we rattled along on the Kulumuru rd to the lovely Munurru Camp on the King Edward River Crossing. It was the best designed camp ground that we had seen on this whole trip with the cleanest toilets (Hybrid) we have seen in 7.5 months! It also had a fantastic water whole within walking distance from camp. The campground is managed by the local Aboriginal Community and you must pay a fee and get a permit to use the campground/swim and also to walk to Mitchell falls. We obtained this permit at Drysdale station the day before. Mgibb junction sign

road gang art
This is what we call road grader art. We really liked finding art in any form and appreciated his effort to make our drive more interesting.
The Kalumburu road rattled the fillings out of your teeth!!!
king edward river swim
The water hole (King Edward River) Munurru Camp was worth the effort to get there. Only freshwater crocs here, as we are too far from the sea. Steve would have a swim in the evening in the dark and bring his torch to spot the eyes watching him swim.
king edward river falls
King Edward River falls with just a trickle of water.
king edward river at sunset
King Edward River at sunset.

There were 2 very good rock art sites near Munurru Camp and we spent a couple of hours at each one. It is so interesting seeing the different interpretations of the world as we travel to different aboriginal areas/sites. We were unable to arrange a tour by a local ranger, so walked through discovering the paintings ourselves. The paintings were done at different times and scientists are dating them from 1000-30,000 years old. Amazing seeing these today and how well some of them have survived out in the elements. Madmiring artmalevolent creatureart 12

art 9
This type are some of the older paintings supposedly.
art 8
An echidna
art 7
Wanjinas or creation spirits.

Unfortunately we were not able to arrange a local ranger to explain the art to us. The description in the brochure was as follows: Mudarin is the boss Wanjina. He sits here with his family (above) and Walangaanda (the milky way Wanjina) and Aamba (Kangaroo). Nearby is Walijuwar (devil Argula) who can steal the souls of babies who cry at night. In the Lalai (creation, dreaming) when the ground was soft, Wanjinas travelling to distant countries created caves as their resting places by throwing down clouds. Gwion and Malan Argua( devils) also live here.

art 6

burial site 2
This burial site is now fenced off, as tourists were moving around skulls to get a better photo!
cave near art site
There are roots growing right through from the rock above where there are trees growing.
burial site
The fenced off burial site.
gecko in cave
A gecko hanging upside down in one of the caves.
blood tree
A tree bleeding some red sap that looked like red fairy floss.
fairy floss
Red tree sap. I am sure the Aboriginal people use this  for something!

art 5

art 4
Gwion figures are said to be possibly 17,000 years old! These were the best specimens we have seen so far. Such detail you would need a very fine paintbrush to do these days.

art 3

art 2
I liked this one with 3 different colours of ochre.

art 11

art 1
The “tentacles”  on the heads of the Wanjinas are supposed to be lightening as they make the rain and clouds of the wet season.

art 10

looking for art
The area around the art site was quite pretty and Steve kept the lookout for birds.
red winged fairy wren
Red winged fairy wren around the art site
northern rosella
Northern Rosella

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.

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.

Gibb River Rd

We left Wyndham and hit the Gibb River Rd. It’s 550kms of  rough, dusty, corrogated road that runs between Kunanurra and Derby. The first little bit is paved these days, so for half our first day there was not so much dust. The Gibb starts with a bang as far as scenery is concerned. The stunning Cockburn range “watched” us passing most of the first day.

gibb river rd turnoffgibb river rd sign

last fuel sign
No much fuel on the road. Or food or telephones or internet or water or toilets!
beginning of the gibb river rd
The beginning of the Gibb River rd and the Cockburn Range

The first river crossing is the mighty Pentacost River- one of those 5 rivers that ends at the five rivers lookout at Wyndham. The photo below is what the Pentacost River Crossing normally looks like early in the dry season.

proper pentacost crossing gibb r r
This photo was on the FRONT of a brochure on crossing the Gibb River rd. In it, it said that caravans are NOT recommended to use the Gibb. Not sure if they were showing why you shouldn’t take caravans in this photo or showing that this guy made it in a non off road caravan?
pentacost crossing early dry 2019
Us crossing the  Pentacost River crossing now, after less than 1/3 of the normal rain in the last wet season. This certainly made it an easy crossing. You couldn’t help but keep looking back at the stunning Cockburn range
mighty pentecost
This is the view of the Pentacost River from the road while crossing it.

rig with cockburn rangestunning rock formations

cockburn lookout
A nice stone platform everyone used for photos on the side of the road.
homemade allergy mask
The Dr at Wyndham Hospital gave me steroids and told me to do the Gibb River Rd in a  ” mask and with my eyes closed” to reduce allergic response to dust, smoke and pollens! This is my home made mask. I keep my eyes open though as there is too much beauty to miss!

We bypassed the more well known El Questro station, as we had been there many years before. It is also now owned by Americans, so we stopped our first night at Home Valley station, owned by the local Aboriginal community. Things have changed on the Gibb since we last did it 16yrs ago. It still feels remote but there is much more development of the stations and many more cars it seems. We are seeing mostly cars or cars and smaller camper trailers but not many caravans. They scare MOST of the grey nomads into going around on the less interesting paved route or leaving their vans either end.home valley station sign

home valley station entry
Entry to home valley station
home valley station pool
The pool area at Home Valley station
home valley station restaurant and bar
The bar and restaurant area.
home valley station bar decor
decor at the restaurant

Home valley was an oasis of green in this dry land. It was clear they had a  lot of water to keep those lawns green. The pool and kids play area could have been anywhere and same with the bar and restaurant with it’s outback/farm decor. The check in desk felt like a big city hotel complete with gift shop. It was a bit of a shock. We opted for the bush camping 4 kms from the homestead right on the Pentacost River as our camp though.

pentacost river with cockburn range
View of Pentacost River and Cockburn Range from bush camp.
cockburn and pentecost at sunset
Views from camp
pentecost camp view
Low tide on the Pentacost River camp
Brown falcon 4
Brown Falcon
pentecost at low tide
The Pentacost was tidal and it was interesting watching how fast the water came in and what came in with it!
swimming against the tide
Tide coming in with mud skippers jumping out of the shallow water and up stream.

We did a couple of walks on Home Valley before we headed out again. An early morning walk to Bindoola Gorge found 2 new birds.

sandstone shrike thrush
Sandstone Shrike Thrush
chestnut breasted mannikin
Chestnut Breasted Mannikin

We did a walk to the only Croc free water hole on the property called Bindoola falls. There was no waterfall, but it was great to get into water again. Having water around you can’t get into just feels wrong when it’s 34 deg!bindoola pool

bindoola falls walk bottom pool
Bindoola lower pool. It was full of big fish that would nip at you if you stood too still. We think it was only exfoliation fish again, but they were so big it hurt! We stayed here and relaxed for awhile and then met a friendly Melbourne couple the Andersons that were traveling in the same direction.
bindoola falls walk
The walk over wet season dry river bed to Bindoola falls pool
the Andersons in their military buggy gibb
The Anderson’s, Terry and Kath that we met at the pool had the most interesting vehicle we had seen on the road!


We had heard about a good free camp from a couple we had met in Wyndham and so we headed there next. It was not so far from Home Valley but we are trying to keep our travel days a bit shorter now that we are on a rough road. We have been on worst roads then this on this trip, but there is more traffic here, at least in the morning. We expected this camp to be very busy as it was right on the river and free. We were stunned to have the whole place to ourselves for the night. It was amazing and lovely even if you couldn’t swim. Steve went down to the river at night with a strong torch and picked out all the eyes looking back that you just don’t see in the day.

durack river free camp gibb river rd
Our view at free camp on the Durack River

We left our free camp after breakfast but didn’t get far because Steve noticed the sign below.

scones sign gibb river rd
Anyone who knows Steve knows he could not drive past this place, so we stopped in at Ellenbrae station for morning tea.
It was a lovely little haven which felt like a station homestead (unlike Home Valley and El Questro)
double bared finch
The double barred and star and crimson finches kept us entertained while we sampled the nice tea and scones. This place is pretty low key but it sold 17,000 scones last dry season( that’s 3 months)!