Kununurra is a town in far northern Western Australia located at the eastern extremity of the Kimberley region, approximately 37 kilometres (23 miles) from the border with the Northern Territory. The town of Kununurra was initiated to service the Ord River Irrigation Scheme.
Lake Argyle and Kununurra are like an oasis in this dry and isolated land. Lake Argyle normally has a surface area of about 1,000 square kilometres and there are currently around 150 square kilometres of farmland under irrigation in the East Kimberly region.
Purnululu National Park is the official name, but this area was previously known as The Bungle Bungles. Whatever you would like to call it, this area of the Kimberley is a remarkable place which you should make the effort to visit if you ever have the chance. Following are some photos from our time there…
It would be east to drive straight through Halls Creek and keep going. That would be a pity, because there are lots of things to do and see in the area. Plus a couple of delightful free camps tucked away just down the road.
There is definitely more to Halls Creek than meets the eye!
Today, another gorgeous gorge. When we arrived in Fitzroy Crossing, we decided that we had to take the little boat cruise that goes up through Geike Gorge. We have done it before, but our friends had not, and we thought it was worth going again as this is another very special place.
There are lots of fresh water crocodiles in the water or sunning themselves on the waters edge.
What a stunning place! Tunnel Creek is quite famous in the Kimberley, so I wasn’t sure if it would live up to its reputation. I was also not sure how successful I would be taking photos in the very low light, but I was pleasantly surprised when I downloaded my pictures. I think I will just let the pictures speak for themselves. I hope you enjoy them.
After traveling more than a thousand kilometres along the dirt road that is the Gibb River Road, today we turned off into Leopold Downs Road and headed towards the famous Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek.
Windjana Gorge is a very special place, and is well deserving of its reputation. Tomorrow we will visit Tunnel Creek and explore that area. It is amazing that all the gorges we have visited are unique and have their own special features.
Perhaps I was on the wrong angle, but that doesn’t seem very complimentary to Queen Victoria!
There is something about boab trees that I really love. They lose their leaves in the dry, and the shape of the trunk with the twisted branches look amazing. Often they will still have their hard brown furry nuts still clinging to the branches.
As a very special birthday present to herself, for a very special birthday, she is undertaking a solo bicycle trip from Katherine, to Kununurra, then right along almost the entire Gibb River Road, then down Leopold Downs Road to the Great Northern Highway. From there she will ride to Halls Creek, and turn into Duncan Road (also a dirt road) for its full length, and from there return to Katherine. What a marathon effort. She carries everything she needs on her bike or single-wheeled trailer.
We have been to some very remote places on this trip, and often the GPS doesn’t even know where we are.
There are so many gorgeous gorges on the Gibb River Road, and we are doing our best to visit most of them.
Still loving the Free camps. We stayed another night on the banks of the Gibb River when we reached the end of the Kalumbaru Road. The boys decided to check out a problem with the rear wheel on the car, and learned the hard way why you don’t jack up a car on the sand…
This was not as bad as it looks! With a bit of help, all was soon back together.
The next morning saw us back on the road, and our next stop was Mt. Barnett Station to stock up on food and fuel. We decided on the free camp option yet again, and travelled on to Barnett River Gorge where we found a lovely shady spot next to the creek.
Well, that isn’t really the name of this free camp, but when we first discovered it there were brolgas around the creek. It is near the King Edward River crossing on the Kalumbaru Road, and we set up camp there on our way back down from Mitchell Falls to re-join the Gibb River Road. We found that on the rougher dirt roads we averaged around 100km per day, which meant we could pitch our tents and relax under a tree or go for a walk in the afternoon.
As long as you are relatively self sufficient (i.e. you need to take everything you need with you) there are lots of great places to stay. The water in the creeks and rivers is clean and clear. We didn’t generally use it for drinking, unless we boiled it first, but it was great for everything else.
You may notice Helva is wearing a down jacket in this photo. That is because it can get very cold overnight and in the early morning in the Kimberley. We weren’t aware of this, and found ourselves a little on the cool side in the nights, so we ended up using the picnic rugs to cosy up our bed.
I am now even more of a fan of free camping when travelling in remote areas. You get to stay in some amazingly lovely places, you can have a camp fire if the weather is suitable, you can choose who you camp with, and it costs nothing at all. What is not to like about that!
Surveyors Pool is in a remote area of the Kimberley, W.A. From Mitchell Falls, you continue on Port Warrender Road, which is really more of a track than a road, until you come to Surveyors Pool.
Further along Port Warrender Road, there is a look out which has a view right out over Admiralty Gulf in the Indian Ocean.
It is a little out of the way to visit Surveyors Pool, but well worth the effort. From this lookout, we turned back and retraced our steps to Mitchell Falls to prepare for our return journey down Kalumbaru Road to the Gibb River Road.
In my last post, I talked about Little Mertens Falls, which is a short walk from the Mitchell Falls camping area. This is a great place for a cooling swim, but the main walk from the camp ground is the track to Mitchell Falls and it takes about an hour and a half each way. It is quite a long way, and also involves some steep rocky climbs, but it is definitely worth the effort.
Once you have passed Little Mertens Falls, you trek alongside Mertens Creek, which is lined with pandanus and a haven for waterlilies. You next come to Big Mertens Falls which is much higher and more spectacular than Little Mertens, however you cannot swim here, so it is best to take your photos and move on.
Big Mertens is a very deep gorge, and quite spectacular in it’s own right.
To take good photos, you need to be a bit of a mountain goat and get right out on the rocks lining the gorge.
A bit more hiking and exertion brings you to your first glimpse of Mitchell Falls itself and you don’t at first realise that there are four layers of waterfall.
As you climb down and around, more is revealed. You need to take off your shoes and socks and cross to the other side of the water to get the best views.
We arrived at Mitchell Falls camping area about lunchtime, so in the afternoon went for a short walk to Mertens Falls where we planned to have a swim.
Life is good! A beautiful swim and a good meal. It doesn’t get much better than this.
The morning saw us packing up the tents and heading off once again, towards the Mitchell Plateau. We had a couple more nights camping along the way before we got to Mitchell Falls, and it was time for a shower so we stopped for the night at Drysdale River Station.
Our third day saw us back on the track. Our first stop for the day was Ellenbrae Station, where we obviously had to try their famous scones with jam and cream.
One of the most delightful things about travelling along the Gibb River Road is the opportunity to set up camp on the banks of a river, or in one of the many free camping areas. Wiki Camps on the computer is a great tool for finding somewhere to camp when you are not familiar with the area. (Thanks Holly!)
Our second day on the Gibb River Road we visited Home Valley station, where many people choose to stay in the campground.
It was fun to visit and look around, but it was too early in the day for us to stop, so we travelled further on.
A little further along, we took a side track that you would miss if you blinked at the wrong time, and found ourselves at Bindoola Falls. There wasn’t much waterfall happening, but we did find an amazing gorge with clear, cool water.
Peter perched himself near the top of the gorge. The trumpet sounded incredible echoing around the rocks.
Even though we are well into the ‘dry’ season, many of the waterways still have plenty of water and it is easy to collect water to supplement your supplies. Our camp on the second night was on the banks of the Durak River. We are yet to see a crocodile, although we are aware that they may be around.
The Gibb River Road existed initally as a cattle route and even today is a 4-wheel-drive-only unmade road, stretching from near Wyndham in the east to Derby in the West Kimberley. The condition of the road varies greatly, depending mainly on when the grader last went through to smooth out some of the corrugations. The full length of the Gibb River Road is around 660 km, plus any side trips you might choose to take.
We began our journey from Kununurra, taking only tents and camping equipment with us, as we planned to travel even further off the track and visit the Mitchell Plateau on our trip.
The first river crossing, which is also probably the widest, is Pentecost River. The crossing was not too deep or daunting, but I am sure it would be a different story in the wet season.
One by one, the cars make the crossing. It is pretty straightforward at this time of the year.
Although some people need to check it out and consider their options before making the crossing.
We pitched our tent in a small clearing above the river bank.
The Cockburn Range looks amazing in the evening light across the Pentecost River.
This was a great first day to our Gibb River Road adventure.
Peter took along his trumpet and we enjoyed the sound of his horn echoing through and around the natural amphitheatres we discovered during our hike.
As we drove south from Kalbarri on our way to Cervantes, we were amazed to see this Pink Lake at Port Gregory. It was quite an amazing bright pink colour, and the lagoon went on for kilometres. The Hutt Lagoon is a superb example of a naturally occurring phenomenon that occurs when algae ‘blooms’ and produces beta carotene – a pigment that has become a lucrative aquaculture crop.
We stayed in Cervantes which is a small cray-fishing village on the Western Australian coast. Nambung National Park is around 20 km from Cervantes. The hundreds of limestone formations that make up The Pinnacles in the National Park are quite amazing to see. Each separate pinnacle can be up to five metres high, although most are smaller than that.
Some of the pinnacles are quite sculptural in appearance, and look wonderful set amongst the rippling yellow sands of the park.
We spotted these galahs perched on top of a pinnacle. There are meant to be lots of animals that live in the park, but most are nocturnal except for kangaroos and emus. However these galahs were the only living things we saw.
As the evening came upon us, an approaching storm made an interesting backdrop to the spectacle of the pinnacles spread across the horizon.
On leaving the park, this white expanse in the distance caught our eye. The sands are so white it doesn’t take much imagination to see it as a snow covered hill.
Returning to Cervantes, where we were staying, we called into Lake Thetis which is world renowned for the stromatolites that grow there. Lake Thetis is a shallow lake formed between sand dunes, about one-and-a-half kilometres inland, dating back around three or four thousand years. It is very salty, and is fed by rainfall and groundwater, so its water level rises and falls with the seasons. Although salty, it is full of life, the most obvious being the cyanobacteria which have produced the stromatolites along the south and western sides, and the microbial mats which line the lake all round. Until the 20th century, the only evidence of stromatolites was in fossil form and scientists presumed that these unique biofilms were extinct.
I would definitely recommend a visit to the Rainbow Jungle if you are in Kalbarri.
‘Kalbarri, you’ll love it!’ the sign promised as we approached town. And yes, that was pretty accurate, we did love it. We also loved the wild flowers that line both sides of the road for miles and miles in this part of Western Australia. This photo was taken from a moving vehicle so it’s a bit blurry.
The National Park is split between coastal sites and gorges within the park. The first day we visited the coastal areas, marvelling at the view from several lookouts and climbed down into Pot Alley, a place we had been to several years ago.
The surf is huge here, with great waves swamping the narrow gap between the rock walls.
A little further along the coastline, there is a natural rock arch as well as a rock known as castle rock that was formed from a natural arch when the top collapsed from the wave action, leaving the rocky island separate from the cliffs.
In this picture, Peter is at the lookout, which has a marvellous view over the ocean and back to the town of Kalbarri.
The following day we ventured into the National Park to visit the gorges. Z Bend is named for the shape of the gorge gouged out of the rock by the Murchison River. It was quite a challenging climb to get down to the river, but worth the effort.
Nature’s Window is probably the most recognisable landmark of Kalbarri National Park.
In the morning we made our way to Monkey Mia to see the dolphins. We weren’t sure what we would find because we had been told it is very commercialised, but we found it was interesting and fairly informal. Everyone lines up along the water’s edge and the rangers give an informative chat about the dolphins, their family trees, and how they can tell the individuals apart.
The dolphins are wild, and free to come or not come as they please. At feeding time, buckets of fish are brought down and people are randomly chosen to feed a fish to one of the dolphins. Each adult dolphin gets 500g of fish, the juveniles get 300g, and they are only fed in the mornings, so they must forage for the rest of their food and don’t become totally reliant on the handouts. Peter was one of the lucky ones chosen for feeding.
The beach at Monkey Mia is a tranquil and unspoilt marine sanctuary. There is an informative display in the main centre, as well as a variety of free wildlife films shown throughout the day, and we enjoyed our visit very much.
Shell Beach is on the way out of the Shark Bay area, and instead of sand, is composed completely of millions of tiny snowy white cockle shells.
The shells are used locally for paths and driveways, and sold elsewhere for various uses including shell grit for poultry and birds. A couple of the local old buildings are built from blocks of conglomerate shells, when you look closely you can see all the individual tiny shells that make up the building blocks. The loose shells are considered a renewable resource since new shells are deposited all the time. We have never seen anything like it.
Coral Bay is as picturesque as ever. There is quite a bit more development here than last time we visited eight years ago, including some houses and a fancy boat ramp and big car park at the southern end of the beach, but the beach is just as lovely and inviting.
The coral has apparently been damaged by the last cyclone, there is not as much colour and variety in the corals you see when snorkelling off the beach. Nevertheless, the sea life is prolific and schools of fish surround you as you swim just out from the beach.
At three-thirty every afternoon, there is a fish feeding session on the beach where you can stand in the water and hand feed the hundreds of huge fish which swarm around your legs. The kids love it! It is an amazing feeling when they glide past your legs. They have no fear of humans at all, which is not that surprising considering this is a sanctuary area, as long as the fish stay away from the fishing beach a few hundred metres to the south.
The water in the showers comes from an artesian bore and comes out of the tap hot and salty. You wouldn’t want to make a cup of coffee with it, that’s for sure. Even brushing your teeth, you need to make sure you don’t forget and rinse your mouth with tap water…it’s not very nice! And it’s not great for washing your hair either. However there are several fresh drinking water taps around the park, so once you get organised, it’s not a problem. The lawns here are salt resistant couch, and the sprinklers need to have a very fine spray so the water cools before it hits the ground. You can see dead lines in the grass where the hoses have lain on the lawn for too long and the heat has killed the grass.
The weather is so warm and sunny that we spend lots of time on the beach. Very relaxing!
We saw this ta-ta lizard on the beach. They are called ta-ta because they run a little way, then wave with their front leg, like they are saying goodbye. Very cute…
Just to make you jealous, here is another view of the beach.
And to make Peter jealous, here is another picture of the fish he can’t catch…