Published: November 13th 2011November 13th 2011
Isn’t it great when some thing unexpectedly goes your way! We arrived in Kununurra hoping to use it as a pit stop to the Gibb River Road, only to find that El Questro and all the gorges along that stretch of the Gibb had closed for the Wet - and only the day before we had arrived. After a wonderful few days in Kununurra (more about that later) we rushed off to Fitzroy Crossing, hoping to do the last stretch of the Gibb River at least, only to learn that that section had also been closed - and again, only the day before we had arrived. Paul in particular was very disappointed about this news, as we had been checking the internet regularly for news of closures, and Tunnel Creek, Windjana Gorge and Mimbi Caves all seemed to be open.
Disappointed, we decided to make the most of Fitzroy Crossing and went on the only tour that was still operating; the Darngku Heritage Cruise through the Geikie Gorge. Here we met Bill Aiken, our host, and not only was he a real character, but he also indicated to us that Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge could still be accessed during
the Wet, and were only ‘officially’ closed due to a lack of manpower (ie no rangers to patrol the area). If the actual Gibb River Road was open (it too can close due to flooding) then, for all intents and purposes, so were Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge. Elated by this news, we decided to drive the next day to Derby while the weather still held, and drive at least this one small stretch of the Gibb. Well, to be honest, Paul was elated, but I was just a tad trepidatious - particularly about walking through Tunnel Creek Cave, the oldest cave system in WA and created when the waters of Tunnel Creek forged its way beneath the Napier Range. The tunnel is 750 metres long, and inhabited by bats, olive pythons, and freshwater crocodiles. The idea of doing this alone when it was officially closed had me a little anxious, particularly as we could expect to wade waist deep at times. Fortunately, another couple we met (Cory and Brooke) decided to join us on this little adventure, so I felt more comfortable...
The day of our great adventure dawned slightly overcast but dry, and we were very relieved
when we entered the Gibb River Road to see that at least the road was officially open. It was a long drive, and we met no one on the 170km stretch to Tunnel Creek. We all clambered to the entrance of the cave, and looked in to the murky depths of the cave. Even Brooke confessed that had we not been there, she would not have entered. But we were, and they were, so we went in. It is quite an eerie feeling to wade through water in a cave where, in places, you can’t see in front of you except with a torch. Half-way part of the cave roof had collapsed, so there was some light, and we had a bit of a rest, psyching ourselves up for the second half. We entered, and Cory, Brooke, William and I had lagged behind a bit when suddenly we heard a shout, lots of splashing, and then Oliver yelling “a crocodile, a crocodile”. We could dimly make out Oliver, Quinton and even Paul pushing their way back to us (and land), and all were very wet (the water where they were had been up to Paul’s waist). It transpires that as
they were wading through the deepest and darkest section of the tunnel, they heard a loud and terrifying bark/growl and then saw a crocodile lunge into the water from the furthest bank, heading straight towards them. So much for freshies being shy and staying away from humans (or had a saltie made its way into the cave unseen??) Paul said he felt rather vulnerable being waist deep in water. Needless to say, we decided not to do this last 100 metres of the cave (particularly as we knew the only way back was through that same passage of water) and headed back, all a little more wary of what lay in the murky depths of the water. What an adventure!
Windjana Gorge was our next stop, part of an ancient barrier reef (the Devonian reef system) that is over 375 million years old. We had a lovely walk, but as there was no swimming in the river (this area is touted as being the best place to see Freshwater Crocs, and after our experience at Tunnel Creek, we had no desire to encounter another angry croc, particularly as this is egg laying / hatching season) we only walked a
short way through the gorge to give us a feel for it.
We are now in Broome, but I should first talk about our time in Kununurra which extended to an unexpectedly lovely five-day break. Everybody we met was friendly, helpful, and just plain nice. Our campsite was by Hidden Valley (Mirima) National Park, a smaller but more accessible version of the Bungle Bungles. A series of sandstone ranges, cliffs and valleys, the colour was awesome, and I didn’t have to get up before sunrise and drive ½ hour to catch the changing moods and colours of the rock, only to share the experience with hundreds of other tourists (aka Uluru) - I just had to step out of my caravan and look straight ahead. And the park was full of mango trees, with ripe mangos just begging to be picked and eaten, which Oliver promptly did.
The first afternoon we arrived here we rushed out to do the obligatory cruise on Lake Argyle (like everything else, during the wet the tour operates only sporadically and would not be operating again until the following week). We travelled with Greg Smith, who we later discovered was quite a personality
in the area and an authority on Lake Argyle. Despite the overcast weather, we were able to really appreciate the incredible size of Lake Argyle, an inland sea that was created in 1971 when the Ord River was dammed. We were cruising on the largest man-made lake in the southern hemisphere, and Australia’s largest expanse of fresh water, most of which just flows wastefully into the ocean. This much fresh water going to waste in a land that is overall incredibly dry and prone to drought, just because a government won’t commit to spending money on building a pipeline that may not be completed during their term of office. Greg regaled us with stories, anecdotes, and a few jokes (ie he was able to tell a male crocodile apart from a female, because this particular crocodile’s mouth was shut! - hmmmm) about Lake Argyle and Kununurra, and then ended the cruise by allowing us to leap into the water to enjoy a beer and dips in the water. And despite the heavy cloud/smoke cover, he even organised the most beautiful sunset; the sun appeared just as everybody had entered the water, and the colour was brilliant. A superb evening.
During the cruise, Greg happened to talk about the Argyle Diamond Mine, which supplies 12% of the world’s diamonds, and he mentioned that, in theory, it is possible to find diamonds lying on the river beds. William’s ears pricked up, and he was adamant we go diamond fossicking! Instead, we took him to Kimberley Fine Diamonds. Here William spent all his savings on a (miniscule) diamond - there was no talking him out of it! His precious gem stone collection is growing. Still keen to go fossicking, we decided to visit James, The Rock Doctor. What a wonderful character. He took the time to show the boys around his collection of rocks, fossils, Aboriginal artefacts and agates. He is passionate about rocks, but has only been able to indulge in this passion since he retired, but in those few years he has amassed an incredible collection.
James even gave us a tip on where he found a lot of his agates, so we decided to stay an extra day so that the boys could go fossicking. While I stayed back at the park with Quinton, the boys went out, and returned with a fantastic collection of agates and other
stones, but the most amazing find was by William who found an authentic Aboriginal grinding stone, complete with thumb groove. How he spotted it we have no idea, it really is quite remarkable (we subsequently took it to James who confirmed that it was indeed a grinding stone). We have no idea how old it is, but it has been well used, and without a doubt is older than any of us.
Also during our time here we took another scenic flight, this time to check out the Bungle Bungle Range, a soft sandstone range which still stands after more than 350 million years. From the air, the Bungle Bungles were quite awesome, and you could really see the orange and black stripes of these massive sandstone structures which stretched out for miles. Being at the end of the Dry season, we weren’t able to see any waterfalls and gorges as they weren’t flowing yet, but the Bungle Bungles were still very impressive. What I was also impressed about was how green Kununurra was - I didn’t realise it was such an agricultural area, growing, for example, the world’s largest plantation of Indian sandalwood (native stocks in India are
nearly depleted), as well as sugar cane and a variety of other fruit and vegetable crops, all thanks to the Ord River Irrigation System (ie the dam).
Other than the wonderful sights, we have also met some great people. Cory and Brooke, who we first met at Kakadu and who later joined us at Tunnel Creek, are now with us at Broome. Cory Carlyon happens to be a musician and we are now officially his groupies. We caught his gig at Kununurra, we will be seeing him play again tonight at the Z Club in Broome, and we have bought his CD. He has a beautiful voice, and he plays the guitar (self taught), the didgeridoo, and the harmonica. If you are curious, his website is corycarlyon.com.au and his CD is called Rise.
We also have finally chatted to a crazy cyclist! After passing him a few times on the road, we saw this particular cyclist stopped under the shade of a tree, so we decided to chat to him and see what makes crazy cyclists tick. This particular one is a Frenchman and had been travelling through Australia with some guys in a combie when he decided
that cycling looked like a better option. Now, in the heat of the day, he was not so sure it was such a good idea, but he is determined to make it all the way to Perth. Martin is a much braver person than me (he confessed to being a bit scared of the cattle on the road, as well as dingos and snakes, and as for passing crazy tourists...let’s say no more!) but I hope he makes it. The boys were so impressed, that they gave him their cold cokes (three in total which Martin gulped down - much to the boys’ amazement) as well as their daily ration of sweets, to give him energy for the road ahead.
There are more photos below