Edith Falls to Ubirr – Sun 5th Jul to Sat 11th Jul

Bear with me, this is going to be a long one; Kakadu has so many wonderful things to see and do.

One of the great things for us was how much more integrated the local people (Binninj in local) are compared to other places we have been.  As a ranger explained to us they have always remained on their land, indeed until the 1960’s white faces were rare, and around 500 continue to live traditional lives within the park.  There was contact over the years, with the first visitors seemingly the Dutch, with Ballander, the local name for whites, apparently a derivation of Hollander.

Edith Falls – Sun 5th

Many Wikicamps comments relate to how busy this site is, how hard it is to get a spot.  An early start therefore, to make the short trip north from Katherine.  Unlike some campsites this one does not allow you in until 10am, before that you park in the day use and go the office to book your space.

An amusing incident on the drive up.  Leaving Katherine a road train turned out ahead of us, so we crawled along until the next overtaking lane.  At this point we went round, only to be passed by the caravan behind us which looked to be going for a land speed record right to the point he pulled back in, when he slowed under 90 and blocked us.  Funny how he didn’t answer the radio (the nomads like to put their preferred channel on their van) when we called up to ask what he was thinking….

Turning off the highway it was disheartening to see a “Site Full” flashing sign, but we pressed on just in case.  Lucky we did as they had forgotten to reset the sign and had plenty of space; so much that, to Hils discomfort, I sent her back to the office twice to ask if we could move.

The falls are a short loop walk from the site.  Outward is a steep climb, over a ridge, and then down to the upper falls.  This was a large area of rock bands split by shallow pools leading to a deep plunge pool beneath the falls; a lovely swim but rather cold.

15-07-05 Edith Falls, Upper 1 15-07-05 Edith Falls, Upper 2

The return loop is slightly longer, giving views of the middle pool with the upper pool in the background.  It is possible to get to the middle pool, but only with quite a scramble over rocks.  The pool then stretches away before tumbling into lower pool which is by the campsite.

15-07-05 Edith Falls15-07-05 Edith Falls, Middle15-07-05 Edith Falls, lower pool

The lower pool flows out through a stream rather than a waterfall; being large and deep, when swimming it is hard to banish thoughts of crocs in the depths.

Gunlom – Mon 6th

The turn to Kakadu is at Pine Creek, once an important mining town this now seems to just be an en-route fuel stop, but does have views of an old open cut goldmine.

Driving into Kakadu it was not what we had imagined, perhaps a stereotype but we had images of wetlands, but instead were travelling through woodland savannah.

As we found out later Kakadu has a wide range of landscapes – including stone country in the north east and into Arnhemland, coast and tidal flats to the north, the wetlands inland from the coast and the savannah.  The savannah is a man-made landscape, shaped by mosaic burning over thousands of years; as a result over 80% of all the plants require fire at some stage of their lifecycle.

To enter the park you have to buy a permit, $25 an adult but kids free.  Bizarrely, as this is a Commonwealth Reserve rather than an NT State park, residents of NT get in for free.

Much like the Kimberley there is just one main road through Kakadu, running from Pine Creek to Jabiru and then to Darwin; off this road there are.  At Jabiru a side road heads NW towards the border with Arnhemland.

Gunlom is at the end of about 45km of dirt road.  As we aired down 4 cars passed without stopping; funnily enough this road is moderately corrugated – also very funny to then pass all 4 cars as they bounced along.  Not so funny for the driver of the Delica that must have rolled a few times, all smashed up and abandoned on the side of the track.

The falls apparently featured in Crocodile Dundee.  Waterfall Creek drops over 50m, with swimming both in the plunge pool below and in the pools at the head of the falls.  The walk up is not long, but is steep and scrambly; well worth it though for the natural infinity pool at the top and the extensive views.

15-07-06 Gunlom, Lower Pool 1 15-07-06 Gunlom, Lower Pool 215-07-07 Gunlom Upper 1 15-07-07 Gunlom Upper 215-07-07 Gunlom Upper 3

Mardugal – Tue 7th and Wed 8th

Mardugal was a great base for a few days.  Located near to Cooinda it is convenient for Yellow Waters, without the premium price tag and busyness of the caravan park.

On the way we stopped in at Maguk, probably the best swimming hole we found.  About 1.5km walk from the car park, the path first winds along a stream (lots of croc warning signs……) then across rocks.  Unusually the water here is warm.  It is also very clear, with plenty of fish swimming around.

15-07-07 Maguk 1 15-07-07 Maguk 2 15-07-07 Maguk 3

Heading back out Charlotte spotted the perfect bonnet ornament, sadly Hils was not so keen; denied!

15-07-07 Maguk 4

Yellow Waters – this may be the best known of the wetland areas, with cruises running throughout the day.  We chose sunrise, so an awfully early start; no matter how much you tiptoe around there is no hiding the 110 diesel when it fires up…..

Breath-taking is the only way to describe the wetlands. We absolutely loved this.  When we turned up it did not look good, 4 boats each holding near on 50 people.  However when we set off the boats scattered and it felt like you were alone on the water.  The guide, a local chap, was a fount of knowledge on the wetlands and their wildlife, and really added to the cruise.

Firstly with mist floating above the water before the sun rises.

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Then as the sun rises the light changes and the bird calls begin

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The range of birds here is incredible, amongst the many, incredible white herons, the unusual “Jesus” bird whose feet allow it to live on the water lillies, the Jabiru stork towering over them all and the whistling kite – also known as the firehawk for its habit of picking up smouldering sticks from a fire and drooping them in fresh grass, setting a new fire and feasting on the animals driven out.

15-07-08 Yellow Waters, Heron 2 15-07-08 Yellow Waters, Heron 315-07-08 Yellow Waters 1515-07-08 Yellow Waters, Jabiru15-07-08 Yellow Waters, Kite

The wetlands, as well as being surrounded by grass also supports fantastic water lillies.

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And finally there are the crocodiles. Its scary to think they just see you as food.

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Waradjin Cutural Centre – this is just outside Cooinda, and its shape is based on the pig nosed turtle, an important local food source.  As part of NAIDOC week there was a weaving class; definitely not as easy as it looks but was great fun and the fresh damper on the fire tasted great.

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Jabiru – Thu 9th and Fri 10th

Originally we had planned to stop at a campsite near Jim Jim Falls, and visit both those and Twin Falls.  Jim Jim is the tallest fall in Kakadu but dries up quickly, majestic all the same and must be stunning in the wet.  By the way, the structure on the right is a croc trap, no swimming here…..

15-07-09 Jim Jim Falls

Sadly we didn’t make it Twin Falls, the water crossing along the way was 700mm deep.  Although pretty certain the 110 could handle it the official wading depth is 500mm – it’s a long way to get towed out….

15-07-09 Twin Falls crossing

Instead we based at Jabiru, the main town in Kakadu.  Kakadu Lodge campsite is very pleasant, and along with the usual stuff also has ranger talks which were outstanding.  The ranger, Christian, is incredibly enthusiastic and a great communicator – fascinating to hear about the fauna of the different environments in Kakadu, from estuarine through savannah to stoneland.

Nourlangie­ – located to the south of Jabiru this is important both for its art and an ancient shelter site.  We joined a free guided tour, with Christian.  From here you can see the pillars of the home of Namarrgon, the lightning man, a very sacred site; he watches for his children, the Leichardt Grasshopper or Aljurr who appear in the build up to the wet when the lightning comes.

15-07-10 Nourlangie, Lightning Dreaming

High up on the rocks is a block of stone, an important symbol to Binninj.  It is the feather Narmonjolg’s sister took from his headdress when they violated incest law (not necessarily blood sister, aboriginal kinship rules are incredibly complicated), left there as a reminder of the law.

In the Angbang gallery here there is a significant piece of rock art, painted by an elder, his last work.  Some art is sacred and not to be seen, some can be seen but the story is not to be told, others can be seen and part of the story told. Often the painting is associated with education, and the story is given on a need to know basis – the story shared with Ballander is often very basic, almost like the children’s version.

15-07-10 Nourlangie, Angbang Gallery 1

Top right is Namarrgon and next to him Narmonjolg.  Beneath Narmonjolg is Barrginj, Namarrgon’s wife.  The figures underneath are family groups on the way to a ceremony and the fish are Guluibirr, a local food source.

Just around the corner from this gallery is one of the “see but don’t talk about it artworks”, Nabulwinjbulwinj, who strikes females down with a yam and eats them (I would love to hear what that is all about).

15-07-10 Nourlangie, Nabulwinjbulwinj 1

Living a nomadic lifestyle within their territory Binninj moved between shelters.  The one here has revealed extensive cultural history over tens of thousands of years.  On the right are the oldest items we saw, getting younger to the left.  The spear head in the middle is thousands of years old, but identical heads were still being made in Arnhemland at the time it was dug up

15-07-10 Nourlangie 3

Ubirr – Sat 11th

Ubirr lies just to the edge of the East Alligator River, which forms the border between Kakadu and Arnhemland.  The river, along with the West and South Alligator Rivers, were named by Phillip Parker King in 1820 – shame he couldn’t tell alligators from crocodiles.

Cahills crossing traverses the river, not a place for paddling.  A good place for viewing the crocodiles though, especially when the incoming tide brings the barramundi in – there is even a viewing platform.

15-07-11 Cahills Crossing

Ubirr, like Nourlangie, has some fantastic rock art; more on that in the next post.

 

Kununurra to Katherine Gorge – Sun 28th Jun to Sun 4th Jul

Kununurra – Sun 28th and Mon 29th

We couldn’t leave Zebra Rock without seeing the mine.  Leaving at 8am it is just a short drive in the tour bus.  Forget images of a large open cut pit, think tennis court sized excavation where the topsoil has been removed to expose the zebra rock.

15-06-28 Zebra Rock, Mine 1 15-06-28 Zebra Rock, Mine 2

Historically there were other sources of zebra rock, but with the construction of the Argyle Dam most were lost under the lake.  What you see for sale in Kununurra is apparently the dwindling remains of another deposit, mined out and put into storage.  There is one other deposit, yours for a snip at $50k, the catch being it is on an island in the lake which will go under in 2018 when the dam wall is raised – best get digging…..

How the rock forms remains an argument between scientists.  According to Ruth, one of the owners and our tour guide, the most plausible theory involves the rock, under heat and pressure, forming into liquid bands.  Whatever the cause it is quite unique with parallel bands of red / brown interspersed with perpendicular dots or bands, some with a boomerang shape.

As part of the tour everyone gets to fossick around in the mine to choose their own piece.  Great fun digging around to find a piece with not only a decent pattern but also smooth sides.

Back at the campsite Ruth demonstrated using Pippa’s piece how to use wet & dry paper to smooth the rock down and bring out the colours; from the girl’s faces the first stop in town looked like the hardware store.   If you prefer the easier route, polished stone can be bought from the gallery.

From Zebra Rock it is under an hour back to Kununurra.  As the road crosses back into WA this means you arrive before you leave, so long as you don’t upset the border quarantine people.  Fortunately they are flexible if you set out from WA and are just crossing back, so we got to keep the fruit and veg.

Kununurra was a chance to restock after a busy week, return the library books and also get a good view of one of the freshwater crocs in the lake adjacent to Kimberleyland.

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Lake Argyle Resort – Tue 30th Jun and Wed 1st Jul

Time for a bit of chilling out alongside Lake Argyle. The resort is located on the site of the work camp from when the dam was constructed, on a hill overlooking what is now all water.  At 335m long and 98m high the dam, across the Ord River, created Australia’s second largest artificial lake.  Normal storage capacity is 11bn litres covering 1000 square km, at maximum flood level the dam can store 35bn litres and would cover 2000 square km.  Any way you look at it this is a very large lake, and ironically the water in it the most underutilised in the country.

Before chilling out, however, you first have to negotiate check in.  I visited the USSR before the Berlin Wall came down and there was less queuing there; it goes like this:

1 – get a ticket from the guy at the gate

2 – take ticket to the office and pay

3 – take stamped ticket back to the same guy at the gate and get directed onwards

4 – stop at next checkpoint and wait for another guy to walk you to your site

5 – wear green wrist bands to show you have been stamped, processed and approved

Despite being assured when we booked, that unpowered sites have water views, it turns out none of the sites do.  Unpowered was still the best though, we had a secluded spot overlooking the bush whereas the powered sites were just rows of vans crammed in like sardines further back towards the road.

Being a commercial operation this place is not cheap, but does offer a stunning infinity pool overlooking the lake.

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There are various tours available, from simple canoe hire up to helicopter flights of increasing duration; and of course cost.  Hils and the girls took a day tour of the lake and had a great time, feeding the catfish, swimming in the lake and seeing the sights.

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Whilst the girls were seeing the sights I was back in Zebra Rock for a spot of fishing.  The morning boat takes up to about 10 people and aims for catfish.  These can reach over a metre in length and over 40kg.  A mainstream eating fish in the USA, it is amusing it had to be renamed Silver Cobbler before Australians would consider it.  Whatever the name it is a splendid eating fish; almost like cod but moister and sweeter.

Getting to the lake the boat goes through the wetlands, a beautiful place in the morning light and teeming with birds (sadly I’d not charged my phone, so only had my IPhone for photos).  Then as the water deepens dead trees poke skywards before you finally reach open water.  Sitting in a boat, rather than looking from the shore, you get a feel for the size of the lake – it is huge.  Big enough that the wind can drive 3m waves during the wet season.

15-07-01 Zebra Wetlands

Kim, the skipper, is a long time resident of the area, and carries a wealth of knowledge.  He certainly seemed to know where the fish were, as in the first hour we had 3 on board of a metre or more.   No size limits on catfish so all catch comes home, at the end of the trip everything is shared so no-one goes home empty handed.

15-07-01 Zebra Fishing

Big Horse Creek – Thu 2nd Jul

Time to leave the Kimberly behind and head towards the top end.   Between the nomads and school holidays the “free” camps were now very busy.  This was certainly the case at Big Horse, a pleasant spot on the banks of the Victoria River.  We pulled in at 11.30, to find only a couple of spots left; anyone coming in after lunch was out of luck.

As roadside stops go this was pretty good; shade, toilets and firepits.  With the early stop it was an opportunity to get some schoolwork in.  Also an opportunity to get the camp oven over the fire.  Ever since Ben & Simone’s cake at Sawpit the girls had been keen for another; happy to report the vanilla cake turned out excellent, very moist from using yoghurt in the mix – sorry, no photos, it was dark and I was hungry!

Katherine Gorge – Fri 3rd to Sat 4th Jul

Katherine gorge was the first of the “must do’s” as we turned towards Darwin.  Whilst there are campsites in town the best place is the visitor centre campsite down by the gorge itself – all mod cons including a pool.

As luck would have it Chris & Rachel were heading south, a perfect opportunity to catch up with them one last time before they head back to England.  The last time we saw them their Patrol had been shipped off for fixing.  We must be their jinx, we found them in the car park in Katherine with the bonnet up and Chris cursing; all was running fine until today!

We had hoped to hire canoes and paddle into the gorge, to get a water level perspective.  Sadly the fun police had got there ahead of us; only one child per canoe and no child under 12 to go alone, so that was the end of that.  OH&S, sucking the fun out of life…..

It is still possible to see the gorge, at least the first part of it (there are 8 in all – to see them all you dig out your wallet and take a chopper).  Running from the campsite is a walk to various lookouts, and if you are really keen on to Edith Falls, arriving 5-10 days later.  Pats lookout is the first, with cliff top views down into the gorge, where several canoes taunted us as they paddled by.

15-07-04 Katherine 1 15-07-04 Katherine, Pats Lookout

About 100m back from the lookout a path winds down to the Southern Rockpool.  During the wet this is a very pretty waterfall, now dried up to little more than a trickle but still lovely. 

15-07-04 Katherine, Southern Rockhole 1

Walking beyond the pool you can stand on a beach at the side of the gorge, with the cliffs towering up behind you.

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The Jawoyn people of this area believe the Katherine River was created when Nabilil, the dragon-like creation being, was ambushed and killed by Walark the cave bat.  On his death the water Nabilil carried was released, forming the river.  Another creation being associated with the gorge is Bolung, the Rainbow Serpent, resident in the deep pools of the second gorge – Jawoyn are careful not to disturb Bolung as this may bring on lightning and monsoonal floods.

We didn’t go further than Pats Lookout, it was very hot and the track is not well shaded.   Heading back you either retrace your steps or go via the visitor centre and another lookout.  With Rachel taking Bonnie and Felicity back the direct route the rest of us took the other way, to find it was not a simple stroll but a tough slog up and down ending in a series of ladders to descend the cliff at the mouth of the gorge.  Not the best walk in the midday sun, although the view wasn’t bad.

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Now finally a picture of a cake.  Hils, assuming my first was not just a fluke, committed me to make another for the group to share; no pressure then!  Fortunately, aside from a slight browning of its top all ended well.

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Good luck Chris, Rachel, Rhiannon, Esther and Felicity, see you back in England next time we are over there.

Kununurra to Zebra Rock – Sun 21st Jun to Sat 28th Jun

Kununurra – Sun 21st & Mon 22nd

To the north of Kununurra lies Wyndham, where we had been assured the Five Rivers lookout was fantastic.  There is the option of taking a dirt road, Parrys Creek, most of the way, sounded like a fun diversion.  This goes across the Ivanhoe dam, just outside of town, the top of which forms a road which runs across the river in a curve at a depth of about 30cm.  Sadly it is currently closed; the story is that large floods a few years back may have damaged the road, but the water has not yet dropped to a level where it can be checked.

15-06-21 Ivanhoe Dam

Parrys Creek road is listed by Hema in their top 50 WA drives.  It can only be for the dam crossing, as the rest of the drive was dull as ditchwater;  there is a spring along the way and some lagoons for the birdwatchers but other than that it’s a boring, bumpy drive.  We took the main road on the way back, it had much better scenery.

At Wyndham the lookout is perched atop a small hill called The Bastion.  This was everything we had been told it was.  Overlooking the confluence of the Ord, Pentecost, Forrest, King and Durack rivers the valley below is an enormous floodplain, it must be quite a sight in the wet.

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On the outskirts of town can be found a very large crocodile, fortunately of the fiberglass variety.

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Everyone has heard of Bundaberg, although its rum may not be to everyone’s taste.  Kununurra has its very own rum distillery, The Hoochery, located just to the north of town; also known for its coffee and rum cake, which probably was instrumental in selling the visit to Hils.  Its not like wine tasting though, you are required to pay for your tasting, with $5 getting 3 thimbles of your choice.

The comedy came when the lady tried to put ice in the thimbles.  “No ice please” was met with “Sorry, we have to put it in otherwise they are shooters and we can’t sell those”.   Good to see government focusing on the important stuff…….

15-06-21 Hoochery

The rum, by the way, was pretty rough, not so dissimilar to Bundaberg after all.   Yes I know Bundie is an Aussie icon, I just can’t shift from Caribbean to QLD.

Back in Kununurra the library is very good, especially if travelling with book hungry children; attached to the local school it is well stocked, and allows short term membership – the Percy Jackson drought was broken.

Purnululu – Tue 23rd to Wed 24th

Driving down the Halls Creek road to the turnoff is one of those “are we there yet drives”, perhaps we have just got a bit spoiled by the wonderful places we have already driven though.   However, once you turn off the main road and head to the park it’s a completely different matter, 53km of constantly changing landscape and road conditions.

The standard advice is 2-3hrs to make the drive, in reality its nearer 2 unless you drive like your great aunt.  Dual axle vehicles are forbidden, apparently they damage the track; great big tour buses must float across the road like butterflies, as they are welcomed.

There are 2 campsites, Kurranjong at the north end and Walardi at the south.  Kurrajong does not allow generators, so an easy choice to head there and meet up with Ben & Simone who had arrived ahead us – they had camped at the Spring Creek rest area just past the turning into the park; don’t arrive late as by midday it’s a hive of caravans.  Noticeable however in the park was the lack of vans, it was all tents and trailers.

The attractions of Purnululu are like the campsites, split between each end of the park. At the north is Echidna Chasm, an extremely narrow split which winds its way back into the rock before ending at a vertical wall.  The rock here is conglomerate, a mix of rocks and finer material, with the chasm created by water cutting through a fissure in the rock.

15-06-24 Bungles, Echidna Chasm 1 15-06-24 Bungles, Echidna Chasm 3 15-06-24 Bungles, Echidna Chasm 4 15-06-24 Bungles, Echidna Chasm 5 15-06-24 Bungles, Echidna Chasm 6

Just outside the mouth of the chasm is a great little lookout, across the valley to the Osmand range, plus an excellent example of a bower bird bower.  Once an important aboriginal living area, grazing has driven out much of the native flora and fauna, however it is hoped these will return as the area is now destocked.

15-06-24 Bungles, Bower Bird 15-06-24 Bungles 2 15-06-24 Bungles, Valley to Osmand Range 1

To the south lies Pickaninny, where Cathedral Gorge can be found.  The nature of the rock here is different, leading to the famous beehive formations, rounded humps of banded black and red.  The colours come from iron oxide and cyanobacteria.

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Cathedral Gorge is amazing, at the head of a narrow valley in the rocks.  It has been cut by a waterfall; as the water dries up after the wet the plunge pool is revealed.  Undercut into the cliffs it has fantastic acoustics, like a natural St Pauls Whispering Gallery.  It would be great to hear a string supported choral performance here.

15-06-24 Bungles, Cathedral Gorge 4 15-06-24 Bungles, Cathedral Gorge 5 15-06-24 Bungles, Cathedral Gorge 6

Just behind our campsite was a handy little rock outcrop, well placed to watch sunset on the range.

15-06-24 Bungles, Sunset 2 15-06-24 Bungles, Sunset 1

Wolfe  Creek – Thu 25th

Wolfe Creek meteorite crater lies on the Tanami Road, about 150km south of Halls Creek.  I’m sure there are reasons to stay in Halls Creek, but no-one we had spoken to on our travels could name one.  The people in the tourist office were, however, very helpful.

The Tanami Road enjoys iconic status in discussions of Australian Roads; which seems odd as it is essentially a shortcut between the Kimberley and Alice Springs, with reportedly little to see along the way.  Perhaps it is the length of the road, at 1035km, and the isolation experienced along the way – if you break down you are a long way from the nearest mechanic.

We therefore set out with a healthy dose of trepidation.

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We were fortunate the section we drove was in reasonable condition, bumpy for the first 10km or so but then smoothing out to a good solid dirt surface.

The crater is something to see, definitely worth the drive.  Formed when a meteorite estimated at 50,000 tonnes smashed into the earth it is 875m in diameter and 60m deep.  In reality it is deeper but drifting sand has filled in the crater, leaving a flat base with striking concentric rings of vegetation.

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Sawpit Gorge – Fri 24th

Whilst impressive, once you have seen the crater and walked to its centre it is time to move along, plus its freezing cold overnight.

The wind had picked up from yesterday, swirling clouds of dust across the road, very American dustbowl.

15-06-26 Tanami 1

The original road north from Halls Creek was the Duncan Road, built to service cattle stations in the area and offering no services until you reach Kununurra at the other end.

Leaving Halls Creek the first landmark is Old Halls Creek, home to the first WA gold discovery in 1885.  We had hoped to get a photo of Pippa here, as one of her modules this term was the gold rushes – sadly the remains of the post office are locked away behind an ugly metal fence, presumably the locals are into a spot of vandalism.

Sawpit Gorge is a tiny camping spot further along, about 50km from Halls Creek with the road twisting and turning along.

15-06-26 Duncan South 1 15-06-26 Duncan South 2

Across a creek the campsite has about 3 spots, luckily 2 were free as we were travelling with Ben & Simone.  The site lies on the side of a river, with a huge rock wall towering above, it is a beautiful place to camp, albeit completely without amenities.

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Zebra Rock – Sat 25th

This was a site Hils had identified, home to the last remaining deposits of the rock that gives it its name.  About 10km from the north end of the Duncan Road it made for a long day.

At first the road was in great condition, albeit it in the middle of nowhere.  However in the later stages, especially after it starts to wind back and forth across the WA/NT border it became very rough with a lot of very rocky sections.  It also had what could be the biggest bull dust hole in WA, there was just no way around it, with dust coming over the roof.

15-06-27 Duncan, Flora Station 15-06-27 Duncan, Bull Dust 1 15-06-27 Duncan, Bull Dust 2

The campsite is a delightful little family run affair, their focus being very much on the personal rather than commercial.  Also the best fish and chips of the trip so far, fresh caught silver cobbler from Lake Argyle.

15-06-27 Zebra Rock

El Questro to Kununurra – Sun 14th Jun to Sat 20th Jun

El Questro – Sun 14th to Fri 19th Jun

El Questro, ELQ by its cattle brand, is the last station on the Gibb River Road.  The camping at the main campsite is unallocated so it was up and away at the crack of dawn as we wanted to try for a spot along the edge of the river.  It is possible to guarantee a river view by booking one of their bushcamps, dotted further along the river, but these have almost no facilities, just 4 toilets dotted amongst the sites.  Even more seriously in the eyes of the girls, the bush camps have no showers and are not near the swimming hole….

Between Home Valley and El Questro is one of the highlights of driving this road, crossing the Pentecost with the iconic ranges looming in the background.  It is one of those crossings where you don’t walk it first, the crocs would be very welcoming.  Good to report the 110 and the Mission made the crossing (and a few returns for photos) with no problems at all, it’s a riverstone bottom so bumpy but plenty of grip.  Also good to meet another 110 and a Perentie heading across in the other direction

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The early start was well worth it, we slotted into a lovely little spot facing the river, with a fire pit, at the bottom end of the site.  It is odd that whilst the powered sites cost more they have a worse location, being at the top of the site in rows and no fires allowed.

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The place is well set up as a tourist resort, with plenty of guided excursions to lighten your wallet should you so desire, down to an old fashioned horse carriage around the campsite.

15-06-15 El Questro 1

However there are also plenty of things to see for which all is required is the wilderness access pass.  At $20 a head (kids free) this is steep for a short visit, there is a day pass for $12, but over the week for which it is valid is much better value.  Not being charged camp fees for the kids was also a bonus, making this one of the cheapest private sites we found in the Kimberley.

Saddleback

This is just across the river, and 10 minutes, from the campsite; a short, steep climb takes you to a lookout with 360 degree views across the station.

15-06-15 El Questro, Saddleback 2 15-06-16 El Questro, Saddleback 3 15-06-16 El Questro, Saddleback 4

Explosion Gorge

This is about a 45 minute drive from the campsite and crosses the Chamberlain River river on the way.  The crossing was dry but formed from large riverstones, making for a very bumpy crawl in low 2nd gear.  The gorge itself is named for certain illicit fishing techniques employed in years past.  It is not possible to get into the gorge without booking onto a tour, but the view from across the river is pretty good in any case, as is the view from the road on the way back out.

15-06-17 Explosion Gorge 1 15-06-17 Explosion Gorge Rd

Branko’s Lookout

This is perhaps the best of the lookouts, and is the one the sunset tour comes to.  Frankly the idea of descending the hill in the dark on the back of a 16 seat, open top, tour 4WD is scary; it was a pretty steep road up with a sharp hairpin in the middle.  However from the top the view is spectacular, sweeping along the bend of the Pentecost river beneath and its two arms stretched either side.

15-06-17 Branko Lookout 1

Also visible is the homestead, yours for a cool couple of thousand a night.  Apparently Nicole Kidman stayed there when shooting Australia, and took a chopper daily to Home Valley where the actual filming took place.  It’s a beautiful place on a headland over the waterhole, reluctantly we turned them down…..

Pigeon Hole

This is not one for the softroaders.  I’d had a look at it the day before but being both on my own and with everyone unaware I was doing it had pulled the pin halfway.  Returning the next day in convoy we made it all the way to the billabong.  Unless you like fishing, and keeping an eye out for the salties, it is more about the drive than anything else.  Satisfying to report the 110 made light work of it.

Zebedee Springs

About 10km back towards the Gibb River Road, these are just a short distance from the road.  Water rises from the ground at about 32c and flows down through a series of pools, before losing itself in a small wetland.  The pools are perfect for sitting in and letting the aches dissolve, surrounded by palm trees, the water crystal clear.  They are open from 7am to midday; after that they are closed, although some of the tours do end there in the afternoon.  About 9am seemed to be the sweet spot, after the morning rush dies down but before the late risers.

15-06-19 El Questro, Zebedee Springs

El Questro Gorge

This is very different to the gorges we had seen elsewhere.  To get to it is an interestingly deep river crossing, coming up almost to the sills of the 110, and hats off to the campervan which chanced its arm getting across.

15-06-18 El Questro, Water Crossing

The gorge can be divided into 2 parts, indeed at the middle is Halfway Pool.  It starts through a flat creek bed, gradually narrowing and becoming rockier as the gorge walls close in and get taller.  Turning a corner to the right you are into the gorge proper, with sheer walls towering overhead and a crystal clear stream running though pools in which small fish dart around, and the occasional snake.

15-06-18 El Questro Gorge 1 15-06-18 El Questro Gorge 2 15-06-18 El Questro Gorge 7 15-06-18 El Questro Gorge 6 15-06-18 El Questro Gorge 4

Presently you reach Halfway Pool, marked at the far side by a large boulder.  To go further you have to climb over the boulder, but being so clear the water is deceptive; what looks shallow rapidly goes over waist deep, so Bonnie was swimming.  It is quite a scramble to get up and over the boulder, but once surmounted the walking is relatively simple for a while until you reach a mass of jumbled large boulders.

15-06-18 El Questro Gorge 3 15-06-18 El Questro Gorge, Halfway Pool 2 15-06-18 El Questro Gorge, Halfway Pool 1

We turned around at this point, although it is possible to go all the way to the top where there is a decent swimming hole.

Kununurra – 20th Jun

El Questro covers land both to the north and south of the Gibb River Road.  The main station, along with all the activities above, are in the south section.  In the north section, heading east to Kununurra is Emma Gorge.  There is an upmarket resort here if that’s what you like, there is also a carpark and access to the gorge.

I’d like to describe what the gorge is like, but in all honesty we only went slightly over halfway – a combination of the girls not having proper shoes, and Hils wanting to get to the Saturday market.

The Gibb River Road by this point had switched to bitumen, making for a simple drive into town.  It’s a pretty dull drive, the highlight being crossing over the top of the dam.

Our destination was Kimberleyland, a slightly oddly named park but going by the wikicamps comments, about the only one that wasn’t located next to a pub or some other disturbance.  A good job we arrived early; with the school holidays starting and the nomad flood in full force there weren’t many free spots.  Time to start booking ahead.  The park enjoys a great location on the edge of the lake, perfect for watching the sunset, and the millions of bats which fly overhead.

Although a small town Kununurra had everything we needed – food, fuel, camping items.  It was interesting to read the restrictions at the bottle shop; you can have up to 2 slabs or 6 bottles of wine per day per shop, we were aware some local communities had problems with alcohol but there must be some heroic drinkers to hit those limits….