Published: June 27th 2012June 6th 2012
Fairfield Leopold Downs Road
...it is open ! Just as well as we have not come 25,000 Klm for nothing.
Tunnel Creek & Windjana Gorge
Leaving Fitzroy Crossing this morning was the start of what we hoped would be an experience that we will unlikely never forget, to travel the Kimberley region along iconic roads that followed famous old stock routes and visit some of, arguably, the most scenic isolated places in Australia. Firstly we had to travel back 43klm towards Derby to the Fairfield Leopold Downs Road. The road’s name is derived from the two Cattle Stations it passes through to reach the Gibb River road at its western end.
Leopold Downs, purchased by the Bunuba people in 1991, is a dramatically beautiful piece of country and we can only imagine what it will be like when we see the famous Cockburn Range on ‘the Gibb’, Leopold Downs encompasses both the Devonian Reef (that means that some 300 to 350 million years ago this whole area was under the ocean), and some King Leopold Ranges Country. Neighbouring Fairfield Station was purchased by Bunuba in 1995, and the total land area of the two stations is 4891 sq km. The Bunuba Cattle Company was established in 1991, to operate the cattle enterprise.
klm and our first ‘real’ water crossings for the trip we arrived at Tunnel Creek….and very excited! Tunnel Creek National Park covers 91 hectares in the Napier Range, a range that can also be seen at Windjana Gorge. It is made of limestone and is what remains of an ancient reef system which existed here in the Devonian period .The main feature of the park is of course the 750 metre tunnel that a creek has worn through the Napier Range. The tunnel is the oldest cave system in Western Australia. It became famous in the late 1800s when Aboriginal leader and "outlaw" Jandamarra (better known as "Pigeon") was using the "Cave of Bats" (also called "Pigeon Cave") as his hideout.
I mentioned Jandamarra in our Derby Blog and said you would have to wait for his story until we reached here, well here it is. Jandamarra worked at Lillimooloora Station with Bill Richardson, who became a good friend to him and when Richardson joined the police force, Jandamarra became his tracker. As a tracker, he helped the police capture many of his own Banuba people – taken away in chains to distant gaols, many never to be seen
again. His close but uneasy friendship with Richardson came to a dramatic end. In late 1894 the pair succeeded in capturing a group which included virtually all of the most senior Bunuba leaders and elders. During the night of October 31 1894, he chose to return to his people. He shot Richardson, armed the Bunuba people and began a guerilla campaign against the European invaders.
Jandamarra’s first major act of war was a direct confrontation – the battle of Windjana Gorge on November 16, 1894 – between 30 armed police and a large group of the Bunuba. Jandamarra was very badly wounded but he did recover, but the appalling and indiscriminate reprisal killings of Aboriginal people throughout the Fitzroy River valley led Jandamarra to develop different tactics. The Bunuba now targeted property, crops and stock, and harassed and ‘stalked’ the pastoralists without causing human casualties. In this way they tied down the progress of pastoral expansion for over three years. Jandamarra developed an almost superhuman reputation amongst white settlers and police for his ability to elude them. He was finally tracked down and killed on April 1, 1897 when the police brought in another Aboriginal tracker, Mingo
Mick, who had equally legendary powers. Jandamarra was killed outside the entrance of Tunnel Creek.
Tunnel Creek flows through a water worn tunnel beneath the limestone of the Napier Range, part of the 375 to 350 million-year-old Devonian Reef system. You walk 750 metres through the tunnel to the other side of the Napier Range, wading through several permanent pools up to waist deep in a few places, and watching for bats and the stalactites that descend from the roof in many places. The tunnel is up to 12 metres high and 15 metres wide in parts. Near the centre of the cave the roof has collapsed and creates a magnificent oasis in the middle of the tunnel. Take a torch as it is pitch black in the middle of each cave section, wear sneakers and be prepared to get wet and possibly cold. Make sure the torch is a good one too, as Trish took in a small LED one and it did nothing so she hung on to me for most of the way through. Trish said to me later that her adrenalin levels were through the roof as we made our way through the deeper water
in the darkest parts of the cave.
I had also previously read that fresh water crocs are often seen in here, but never mentioned this to Trish, sure enough half way through one of the deeper pools I panned the torch across the water and saw a pair of ‘red eyes’. I did not tell her until we were out again, just as well!
When we reached the end of the system we had been told that there was some Aboriginal art on the walls of the cliffs to the left and after a short scramble we found some wonderful old ochre art under a few overhangs, brilliant.
I cannot say adequately how magnificent this place and our experience was here, and this was just the beginning of it all. Reluctantly, but with a new sense of adventure we set off for Windjana Gorge.
Windjana Gorge National Park is a well known and much visited national park in the Kimberley, because similar to Geikie Gorge and Tunnel Creek it is relatively easily accessible, that's something that can't be said of many Kimberley gorges...
Windjana Gorge is a 3.5 km gorge, carved
Trish at the entrance of what was to be a great experience.
out of the Napier Range by the Lennard River. The Napier Range is part of the same ancient Devonian barrier reef system that we also saw at Tunnel Creek and Geikie Gorge. The walls on both sides of Windjana Gorge are 30 to 100 metres high, and the gorge is over 100 metres wide. It's an impressive sight, but it would be even more amazing to see during the wet season when the Lennard River is a raging torrent. Of course you can't get near the gorge then...
We followed the 3.5 km path that winds its way through the tropical strip of vegetation along the permanent pools of water that remain during the dry season. The cliffs were striking but the most noticeable feature of Windjana Gorge in my eyes, was the number of freshwater crocodiles we saw, there are literally dozens of them, in all sizes. Freshwater crocodiles are usually harmless. They won't stalk or attack you like saltwater crocodiles do. Still, a crocodile is a crocodile in my eyes and despite Trish wanting to ‘take a dip as it was hot and a once in a lifetime opportunity to swim in Windjana Gorge’, I declined!
Taken from inside the mouth of the cave looking back out to the entrance
We could not camp at the Windjana Campground so we headed off to find a free camp. This proved to be on the Gibb River Road as Windjana Gorge is not far from the junction of the two roads, we are well into it now and so far the Kimberley has not disappointed us, in fact we are already in awe of this region, bring on ‘the Gibb’.
There are more photos below