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Published: August 11th 2019
The Berkeley River
Lodge to northwest of mouth and Reveley Island just off coast.
Don't forget to click on image to enlarge
I found a really good deal for Berkeley River Lodge on the internet so we decided that, as we would never be likely to go to this part of Australia we should bite the bullet and do it. The normal discounted prices I checked were way too rich for us so this seemed like a good idea at around 1/3 of those prices.
On offer was a 5-day stay at a luxury lodge with only 20 villas and no children under 18. Included were all meals and drinks plus the return flight from Darwin and all activities excluding helicopter rides.
We left the van with friends at Dundee Beach and drove the 2.5 hours to Darwin airport where we left the car at the long stay car park and walked to the terminal (5 minutes). The airport is only small and has domestic and international flights (Bali and Singapore). It is shared with the RAAF base in Darwin.
We were to meet the guest liaison person at the baggage claim at 1500, which we did along with two other couples, and were taken by coaster bus to the Hardy Aviation offices. Here we and our baggage were weighed
Darwin fron the Air
Small and well spread out
before boarding the ten-seater plane. We were only allowed 10kg soft bag each, but we easily coped with that.
The flight took off at 1530 giving us a good view of the city and the Tiwi Islands as we headed out west across the Timor Sea to Berkeley River Lodge in Western Australia which is 1.5 hours behind central Australia time, so we landed 10 minutes after we set off on the approx.100 minute flight, flying at an altitude of 9000ft. This is the only way to get to the resort and all fresh food is flown in daily and a barge from Wyndham (150kms by sea) comes once a week with supplies.
The lodge was constructed in 2012 and opened in 2014. Everything was brought in by barge or air, an amazing feat. As this is a cyclone prone area the buildings must withstand high wind and torrential rain. No concrete was poured and the villas are anchored deep down in the dunes and have withstood several cyclones. The place is as eco friendly as possible with most rubbish removed by barge or burnt. The toilets are all composting types and water is found underground and sand
Berkeley River & Timor Sea from the Air
Lodge to the right and sand spit where we boarded the boats
filtered and totally potable. Power comes from a huge solar powered battery bank.
We were met on the gravel runway by one of the four guides, Angelique (a Swedish/Indian girl) bearing glasses of champagne. She took us in the safari car to the Lodge where we were briefed as to what was on offer etc. One of the two helicopter pilots was there spruiking, trying to sell various helicopter flights. We declined as very expensive i.e. $1000 each for a flight plus sunset drinks!!!!!!! Everyone we met actually took up his offer. We have seen similar landscape on a much cheaper flight in Katherine with only the two of us on board.
Back into the safari car to be taken to our villas. Ours was facing the river mouth as much more picturesque than looking out over the ocean - had already booked this option. We just had time to take in our surroundings and it was time to stroll down to the area where sunset drinks and nibbles were waiting for us. This was a nightly thing which we partook of every night, unlike most of the other guests who only bothered to come once. It was
Berkeley River Lodge
Photo taken of the cover of a book of photos showing construction of the Lodge
amazing to watch people poised with cameras for the sun to drop below the horizon – not over the sea, like we have here ar Dundee Beach, only to then leave instead of waiting for the much better after glow and reflection of the light across the sky. Beer, wine, champagne and soft drinks on offer with cheeses, nuts, dried fruit and crackers.
We had about 45 minutes until dinner which was served at 1820 each night. We went up to Dunes restaurant and had a pre-dinner drink from a huge selection of wines and spirits. The weather was perfect so we chose to sit outside on the deck overlooking the pool and ocean. Dinner and lunch were always served at long tables and we therefore got to meet most of the other guests and what lovely people we met too. Usually about sixteen couples and people coming and leaving each day after breakfast.
Each dinner was a different menu but the same format, we got the menu on the table each night – a 5-course degustation meal with different wine accompanying each course. Every meal was fabulous and amazing given the small kitchen and only two staff.
Entrance to Villa 5
The bathroom is to the right
There are sixteen staff at the Lodge who were all vey hard working and always smiling and happy people. They only work the season, April to end of September and get three days off a fortnight. They have internet and TV in their rooms and the chef takes meals to the staff quarters every night. We had no TV or internet in our villas but Wifi was available at the Lodge also no phone reception although there was a satellite phone available for emergencies.
Each day the board outside the restaurant changes and you can see what activity you are booked for by looking for your villa number. There was also a printed itinerary in our villa. Our first full day was a six-hour river cruise up the tidal part of the river, 25kms. There are mangroves at the beginning of the trip and we saw plenty of large white egrets looking for bait fish. Australian mangrove forests contain 41 species of mangroves from 199 plant families, one of which is actually deciduous (we saw several of these trees). More than half of the world’s mangrove species are found in Australia.
The vessel carried twenty but there
There were two vanities
were only six of us plus the skipper, Dempsey (who is Lodge Manager). The Berkeley River is 135kms long and there are no communities or cattle stations anywhere in the area so it is true wilderness. The land is owned by the traditional owners who do not do anything with it. They saw an opportunity to make money and released the land where the Lodge is situated and sold that small area. The mouth of the estuary is 200m wide and sheltered from the Timor sea by Reveley Island and large sand bars and mud flats at low tide.
We saw jabiru feeding (actually black - necked stork – true jabiru are only found in the Americas). Several brahminy kites, ospreys and sea eagles on our trip down the river. The Casuarina Creek to our right was accessible as the tide was high so we went down there and saw a large colony of black fruit bats roosting in the mangroves.
At the end of the navigable part of the creek is a waterfall and in front of that an island made of rocks. In the wet season the waterfall can be so forceful it throws rocks over
the top and over time the island has formed.
Casuarina Creek is named after Mt Casuarina a high mesa dominating the flat surrounding land and easily seem from the Lodge. Named after ‘Casuarina’ a schooner purchased by the explorer Nicolas Baudin at Port Jackson (Sydney) in 1802, during the Baudin expedition to Australia. The vessel took its name from the local casuarina timber used in her construction. He passed this way on route to Mauritius where he died in suspicious circumstances.
The river narrows into a gorge with beautiful rock formations on either side. The square shapes, which reminded me of Gaudi’s buildings in Barcelona, were very interesting, the horizontal cracks were made by tectonic plate movement and vertical one by rain penetration over thousands of years. We saw a remnant of rain forest in a very sheltered spot, complete with palm tree. Actually we saw a few palm trees struggling to grow in the rocks. There were hanging gardens of ferns fed by constantly dripping water oozing out of rock fissures, all most amazing.
There were plenty of fish , lots of crocodiles as August is the best time to see them here as the river
water is too cold for them and they warm up on the banks of the river, sunbathing. One day we saw a couple of hump back dolphins swimming up river – a first for us. There were also lots of jelly fish coming down river after mating in the shallows. The females are either pink or blue and swim on the surface and the males, which are white, swim deeper down. We also spotted three shy rock wallabies who showed off their amazing jumping skills nimbly going up and down a rock face.
Around the lodge there were many wild orange flame grevilleas, we had one we could see from the bathroom and one from the balcony. They attracted many species of honey-eaters and also fruit bats in the evening. The décor at the lodge was green and orange – namely seating in the restaurant and cushions on outdoor furniture, taken from the colours of the grevilleas..
As we were away over lunch period we had drinks and wraps and fruit, cheese and crackers laid on when we pulled in under the shade of a cliff.
Normally activities are either morning or afternoon so we could have
Nespresso machine, kettle and water cooler next to window.
lunch in the dining room accompanies by wine, spirits, beer. The menu was pretty extensive including a seafood platter for two, barramundi and chips, burgers, chicken pasta, plus a few other options, enough so we could have something different each day.
Breakfast was buffet style to start with champagne, juice, cereals including homemade bircher muesli, toast and conserves, smoked salmon, cheeses, fruit. This was followed by a comprehensive menu of hot food, chef’s omelette, French toast, pancakes, full English breakfast and a few other choices, with tea or coffee.
The bar opened at 10am till 10pm, there was no minibar in the villa so the barman was happy to give us a bottle of wine and glasses so we could sit under the stars on our balcony, which we did and were lucky to spot several satellites too. The Milky Way was fabulous and one night we saw the International Space Station, it is a lot faster and brighter.
The next day we were booked to go on the morning 3-hour fishing trip up the river. There were four of us on this trip plus the skipper, Andy. There were plenty of Shimano flick rods with the
View from the bed
choice of bait, squid, bait fish, live bait or lures, Danie had two rods going but I stuck with one and was very successful. If needed the skipper baited your line, removed fish or cut up bait. We were more than happy to do that ourselves except for fish with teeth like the pike eel that was caught. There were snacks laid on for morning tea plus beer or soft drinks.
We went to various spots depending if we got nibbles or not. The idea was to catch the elusive ‘barra’ (barramundi) using lures. We were not lucky during our stay but four were caught whilst we were here, though not on our boat. Bruce was our skipper the first trip then Angelique the other trips.
Between us on the boat we caught, pike eel, blue salmon, fingermark bream, black, bream, catfish, rock cod, golden snapper, a big dhufish (the catcher threw it back!!!!!!)
We kept a golden snapper and the chef cooked it for us for lunch. My prized mangrove jack was too small to keep and the black bream I caught to take ack to eat was lost off the hook by the skipper. It
had swallowed the hook so deep I couldn’t retrieve it. It died and floated off only to give us a great show by two sea eagles swooping on it and one eventually caught it in its talons and flew off. – a real treat. It was a lovely morning and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I was so excited to catch lots of fish I forgot to keep a tally.
The afternoon was spent on the balcony watching honeyeaters and reading.
The following afternoon Danie got a spare place on the fishing charter as the vegan wife of a beef farmer – go figure, didn’t want to see fish being caught so a win for Danie. I thoroughly enjoyed kicking back reading whilst he went off fishing but didn’t catch a legal size fish for us. We met new people at lunch then mid afternoon went on a bush drive with one other couple. Unfortunately a few weeks previously one of the staff had a bit of a mishap at the dump when the fire got away from him causing quite a bit of damage but was a plus for us as we could see the landscape little creeks
Some of the Villas
Driving up from the beach
and things otherwise hidden by spear grass and spinifex. It was an interesting one-hour drive amongst other things we saw a quinine bush, it has 7 species found in New Guinea and Australia. In local medicine, pregnancy is said to be avoided by eating the fruit of the quinine bush (Petalostigma pubescens), which, as its name indicates, contains quinine. Plants of this species are also used for relieving pains and quinine was added to Indian Tonic water to help avoid malaria for the Raj in India. There were a lot of Spiral Trunk Pandanus,Pandanus spiralis a shrub or small tree up to 10 metres in height. It has long, spiny leaves organised in a spiral arrangement. The plant bears a large, pineapple-like cluster of fruit that turn orange-red when ripe. It is one of 750 recognised species of pandanus.
Wildlife, including birds take advantage of the spiny leaves by living in the tree for protection, they also favor its fruit. The leaves of P. spiralis can be used to weave neckbands and armbands.The fibre of the leaves can be used as string for dillybags. Other uses include baskets, mat and shelters.
The Lodge Pool
NOT a real crocodile
In addition, mashed leaves can be used to cure headaches when tied around the head, the fruit's seeds can also be ground to make flour. We also saw emu apple tree and various other plants and trees including a few more boabs. We drove along the base of 60' sand dunes and Dempsey explained how, because of Reveley Island, this area was one of few on the Kimberley coast to have dunes as the sand from the river is blocked by the island forming these dunes and sandbars along the coast.
We were lucky to be asked if we would like to go fishing on our last day so did another two fish charters, morning and afternoon, It then we saw a huge crocodile on the river bank, the largest we've ever seen. We were booked to do a beach drive in the afternoon, but we prefer driving ourselves on the beach and fishing was much better fun.
The last morning our villa number was on the board to depart along with four other couples, meeting at the Lodge at 0745 for the short ride to the airstrip. There was a note on the bed the previous evening
requesting our bags be outside our door at 0715.
We were surprised to see two planes but, apparently, the barge was a week behind schedule so the planes had to bring in extra supplies. Our plane had us, another couple and the pilots girlfriend (along for the ride). The last thing we saw as we taxied to the end of the runway was a dingo who had been scavenging near the dump as its coat was black with ash.
A wonderful break with wonderful staff, location and really interesting people. Most were from Sydney, one couple from Canberra, one from Perth and one from the Gold Coast, that we spoke with. We were the odd ones out with no fixed address!!!!!!
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