Windjana Gorge – Sun 31st May to Mon 1st Jun
Heading east from Birdwood it still doesn’t feel like the Gibb River Road proper. Although there are some dirt stretches it is still mainly tarmac, albeit just a single lane along the crown of the road. A bit like driving in India, trucks own the right of way.
Finally, just before the Windjana turn the tarmac drops away. But the conditions are still really quite civilised, minor corrugations which seem most suited to about 70km/hr. Arriving at the site you’d have thought there was a gold rush on – 10am and queuing 6 deep at the registration booth, maybe something to do with the long weekend. There are no allocated places here, we found a shaded spot, handily with a picnic table for the ever present schoolwork.
Arriving early at a site affords the sport of watching later arrivals try to find a spot. Funny to spectate, but never comfortable when the shoe is on the other foot.
Rising sheer from the landscape at Windjana is a Devonian reef through which the Lennard river has carved a channel. It is incredible to think this is basically the remains of uncounted billions of tiny organisms from millions of years ago.
This gives some spectacular scenery.
It also provides a home to a great number of freshwater crocodiles.
Just up the road from Windjana is the aptly named Tunnel Creek, one of Australia’s smallest national parks. Here rather than forming a gorge, the river has cut a tunnel through the reef. Not only an interesting geographical feature, it also has local history. A leader of the local people in fighting the spread of the white man was Jandammara, who used this place as a hideout
On a stinking hot day this was a lovely cool place to be. To get through requires some clambering over rocks and wading in places, however as the wet this year seems to have been anything but, it was no more than knee deep; with a more normal wet season it is common to be almost swimming.
Half way along the tunnel roof has collapsed, providing some welcome sunshine to push back the dark. At this point Hils and Pippa waited, the rest of us pushed on to the far end where the tunnel opens onto a pretty little stream.
Amongst the wildlife counting this place as home were a couple of crocodiles gazing out from the deeper pools, and a colony of bats away up in the cave roof.
Silent Grove – Tue 2nd to Wed 3rd Jun
The road conditions remained persistently pleasant, presumably connected with the grader and steamroller we passed, busily flattening everything out. Aside from the scenery, a landmark on the way is a rock formation with a peculiar likeness to Queen Victoria’s head in profile. The nose is a little sharp, but the forehead is there if you look closely.
Along the way the road winds through the Leopold Ranges, named for a Belgian king we had never heard of (actually King Leopold II, best known for the establishment of the Congo Free State and the longest reign of any Belgian King, according to Wikipedia)
Silent Grove is down a side track, left from the GRR. The only reason to go there is to camp near to Bell Gorge, which is a further 10km down the side track plus a few km walk in. It is a lovely little camp in its own right, but you have to time your shower run carefully as they are solar.
A couple of slithery locals gave a surprise on the second night, I don’t know why one thought a 110 provided good cover but it was there for a couple of hours, perhaps it just had good taste….
The walk into the gorge is pretty but nothing special until the end, where nature has provided its very own infinity pool at the top of the falls
Climbing down takes you to a great swimming pool at the base of the falls, even the local lizards agree.
Mornington Wilderness – Thu 4th to Fri 6th Jun
Once you’ve seen the gorge it is time to move on, with the GRR continuing to wind through the Leopold Range. Within the ranges there is the option of 2 wilderness retreats, Mt Hart and Mornington. We had heard a few negative comments about Mt Hart so Mornington it was.
Mornington does not take bookings for camping, instead you radio them from a radio in a shack at the turn-off. The OCD was probably kicking in a bit, but this meant we were away from Silent Grove rather early, just in case. In practise a couple more hours of sleep could perhaps have been had, plenty of room at the inn.
Mornington lies at the end of what feels like the world’s longest driveway, c.80km south from the GRR. Presumably as it less trafficked it, however, was in great condition; we originally had visions of rock hopping, but were there in 2 hours. The main risk is the cows – the stupid creatures just walk out into the road and stare at you in a bovine game of chicken.
Mornington is a tract of land owned by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Set up by Martin Copley in 1991, the AWC now owns and manages 23 sanctuaries covering over 3m hectares. Being run on a conservancy basis Mornington has been destocked, with the added bonus therefore of no flies. Hot showers, flush toilets and a bar, a little slice of heaven (yes, we are easily pleased these days). The girls certainly enjoyed the cold lemonade, and we had a chance to test one of the new canvas panels we had picked up in Broome
As its main attraction this place has both an enormous variety of native bird species and some impressive gorges. Not being twitchers we headed for the gorges, both of which lie to the south of the campground along pretty easy dirt roads. It might be harsh to suggest the roads are deliberately cut to get to the river a short way from the gorges, and perhaps coincidental that canoes can be hired ($65 a go), but that is the impression we got.
Dimond Gorge looks rather imposing, with cliffs hanging over a large pool. The feeder river to the gorge is rather pretty.
Sir John Gorge is hard to see from the walk in, being away to the left.
Down the river from Sir John is a lovely little swimming hole with a rope swing which provided everyone with a great deal of fun.
It was at this pool we met Roger and Jada, also from Sydney and travelling around with Sydney Distance Education. Lovely family and a great evening at the bar chatting away.
Manning Gorge – Sat 7th Jun
Gorges exhausted it was back to the world’s longest driveway, and the suicidal cows. On a better note we also crossed paths with a local dingo, its not so purebred buddy and a rather impressive boab. Funny how boabs are a lot like people, they start off thin and tend to blow out in later life.
Manning Gorge is reached via the Mt Barnett Roadhouse. Reaching there around midday it seemed it was just in time, the highflow diesel was dry and there were doubts about the normal diesel, with the next delivery Wednesday. Those arriving later in the day were restricted to 50l, and we hear the pumps did actually run dry in the end before the tanker arrived.
The campsite itself is really just a series of areas cut into the bush either side of a track. The far end to the right looked like the best bet; although a walk from the amenities it also meant the generator pumping water to the toilets was not too intrusive.
With a little fire ring dinner was completely over the fire, no gas required. Gas was one of our concerns for the Kimberley, as with plans to go to Mitchell Falls first it would be some time before the next opportunity to refill. As it turned out there was no need to worry, with dinner over the fire in many places.