The Kimberley

Offroad testing products with RV Storage Solutions

Another iconic outback adventure is the Gibb River Road. The traffic on the GRR is far greater than other icons such as the CSR mainly because it has a destination either end and is an “on the way” to track. It links Derby and Kununurra. The Kimberley is an extraordinarily diverse area. We spent over a month up there seeing all we could. From old Halls creek in the east to Broome in the west there was plenty to do and see. Our trip up to the Kimberley was Melbourne, Port Augusta, Coober Pedy, Oodnadatta, Mt Dare, Finke, Kulgera and onto Alice. After a stay in the Alice for a few days we headed to Halls creek via the Tanami. The Tanami in itself was and is a fair adventure. It stretches over a 1000 km’s between Alice an Halls creek and offers a diverse landscape. The first couple of 100 km’s is bitumen ending at Tillmouth roadhouse where the last purchases such as fuel and food are at their easiest and cheapest.

Whilst we were on the Tanami the heavens opened up and dumped 45 mm of rain. The road was (just!) manageable with the Cooper STT’s and a lowering of tyre pressures. By the time we were approaching Rabbit Flat we had our concerns as this was the worst hit area. We made it to find that Bruce had shut down the camping area as it was under water. We managed to get hold of a hose to wash the mud from our roof top tent so as to identify where the Zip was. Not fun!! There were a couple of campers on the gravel area opposite the homestead that had just missed the rain and couldn’t get out. I would assume they were there for days as we left the next morning much to their horror.

Wolf Creek meteor crater.
Big termite mounds Tanami Road.

Infact unbeknown to us the authorities closed the Tanami while we were on it. We were spending 4 days in Halls creek to have a look around and do a bit of prospecting. The first couple of days were spent at the caravan park and the second couple at the Kimberly hotel. We decided to treat our selves as the noise of the locals screaming all night long out side the park was too much to bear. We spent most of our time out off town visiting the many sites such as the china wall, Caroline pool, Sawpit gorge, Palm springs and of course Old Halls creek. Old Halls creek was a bitter disappointment for us as we had read all the history and seen old photographs of it. The town was made from mud and all that is left of it now stands protected under a mesh wire enclosed tin roof. You cant get near it and it was all over grown with grass and shrubs. The caravan Park nearby is run by Martin who has had a running battle trying to get tourists out to stay. He blames the council. He has however a lot of info on the area and its history and gold. He actively mines for gold and showed us the results. This had us keen to get out there and with his permission we headed out on his leases to dig a few holes. A couple of strong signals a long way down had our hopes dashed when a century old plus horses bridal ring was uncovered in the creek bed followed by an old brass bullet cartridge. Off course hob nail boot droppings were also prevalent. It had at least put us on the spot where the old timers had been a century ago, so that was a buzz in itself.

Our camp at the Halls Creel Caravan Park.
The beginnings of the East Kimberley. Halls Creek was on the other side.
Big hole for an old horse bridal ring!!
The statue of Russian Jack and his sick mate.

The explorer Carnegie and his men spent a bit of time here also and there is a memorial to him at OHC. The Pub was expensive but it is an oasis with clean rooms and good tucker and felt weird as it was in a wire compound with security on the gate. If you have been to Halls Creek at night you will understand why.

The town has all the necessary conveniences and the well used info centre is first class. Because of the rain, the track into the bungles our next stop, was for the moment closed. The info centre was informed early each morning by the ranger and was able to give us early advice. It seemed that HC was filling up with tourists waiting to get to the Bungles. On our last day in HC good news was at hand, the track was open to 4WD’s only with no camper trailers allowed. After heading out there it obvious why, it was still pretty chopped up and wet.

Martins gold mining enterprise Old Halls Creek.
Palm Springs.
Sawpit Gorge the fun way!
Caroline Pool.

We left Halls Creek behind and headed for the Bungles. We are not used to big crowds being 4WDrivers so the big crowds at some of these destinations were a bit of a turn off. We prefer harder to get to destinations where mostly you have it to yourself, but hey we were there and had to have a look. The track in for the most part is easy to medium 4WDriving. The most dangerous part is avoiding the tour buses on water crossings and blind corners! In the Kimberley as we found out, hire cars such as Britz and Thrifty are everywhere and 4WD buses are in plague proportions only behind the amount of camper trailers.

The track into the Bungles is slow going and it does take a couple of hours to complete. You pay your fees at the ranger station and we bought a pass that covered us for other areas such as Winjuna Gorge.

The Bungles is worth a look even if you have to fight the crowds. It is a well organized area and information on the various walks and attractions are well documented and sign posted. There is two camp grounds. We opted to be a day visitor only and headed for KNX (Kununurra as the locals call it) a hot shower and for the time being a few days of civilization. KNX was to be our base for a few activities such as a a visit to El Questro and a flight to Mitchell Plateau and a chopper out to a boat that was waiting for us. This was a cruise down the Kimberley coast to Broome was to be our second honeymoon and was fantastic.

What everyone comes to see.
Car park at the Bungles.

If you ever get the chance to do one of these intimate cruises, do it. Its expensive but worth every cent. You get to places along the rugged Kimberley coast that you cannot get to by land. There was eight passengers and five crew on an 80 foot cat with 2 tenders. The skipper as it turned out was a history buff as well and we got on famously. In fact he remodeled the itinerary on a couple of days to take in some history not ordinarily discussed or visited on the cruise.

Day one I found myself at the very reason I wanted to do this. The Mermaid boab tree. I have a fetish for old significant trees particularly if it has an inscription. This tree is in Careening bay, called that because in 1820 Phillip Parker King careened his cutter the Mermaid for much needed repairs. They spent several months here fixing the Mermaid and where they cleared around the tree is now as it was then. Untouched. Behind the tree there is a cut out in the tree where King placed his candle and portrait of his wife. His tent was abutted here and standing in this place was a unique and moving experience. A lone Boab nut from this tree now stands pride and place in my collection of memorabilia. King was an unsung hero of our past charting the coast line over many years and voyages during the early 1800’s.

Our boat from the chopper.
The very special "Mermaid Boab tree".

The remoteness of the area is amplified because you can’t get to it any other way. Further south limited access is gained from Walcott inlet but the only way to see it is by boat. A day or two later saw us in the midst of one of the most bizarre events of our history. The Camden harbour settlement.

The 1850’s gold rushes were coming to an end and most of the agricultural land in Victoria was taken up by the wealthy squatters. A scheme was devised in the early 1860’s by some Melbourne businessmen and a deal was struck with the powers to be, to open up a vast tract of land to be settled in the Northern Kimberley known as Camden harbour. CH had been visited by King and others earlier in the century with glowing reports of majestic rolling land with green grass, plenty of fresh water and a terrific harbour. None of these reports actually mentioned that they did not land and their views were from the sea. Undeterred the businessmen set about selling tracts of land to would be settlers who could not obtain land in Victoria with which to farm, and off went three ships loaded to the gunnels with would be farmers and their families, 1000’s of head of sheep, horses and supplies to last several years. Most of the settlers came from Clunes and Portland Victoria. History now tells how it was a complete disaster. Death, despair, shipwrecks and a completely hostile environment that was totally unsuited for settlement. Poison shrubs accounted for most of the sheep, water was hard to win in the dry, and they actually arrived at Christmas in the humid heat of the wet. Chaos ruled and pilfering of the supplies saw the arrival of Magistrate Sholl to command the new settlement. The 30 odd foot tides took out most of their supplies and gear after unloading onto the beach.

The famous Mitchell Falls from the chopper.
The Kimberley you must see from the water.
Mary Jane Pascoe's grave on Sheep Island.
Karen with lunch!!

We picked up a great book at Drysdale station called the Three ships. It tells the full story of this piece of our early history. It is written by one of the descendants of the failed voyage.

The rest of the cruise was interesting, relaxing and rewarding. It had a bit for everyone. The regular fishing jaunts up the gorges where more often than not, a picturesque where a water fall tumbled down a sheer rock face. It was awe inspiring not to mention the copious amounts of fish and mud crabs to be had. The gorges and rivers of the Kimberley coast really spoil you because later on when we did the Kimberley by 4WD as the gorges just didn’t do it for us.

Some other interesting finds were Phil and Marion pictured below, who sailed into silver gull creek 20 years ago and have been there ever since. Modern day squatters who are two of the most crazy buggers you would ever meet. I mean that in a nice way. What they have eked out up there is amazing and a privilege to see.

The blazed boab on sheep island. The settlers called it Barsted island. A lot of them ended up buried there.
Some remnants of the Camden Harbour disaster.

Further south you can see the impact of man with the BHP iron ore mines on Cockatoo island and the Paspaley Southern sea pearl enterprises. All of these outposts of industry are only accessible by air or sea. Apart from the BHP mines that have totally defaced the environs the rest seem to have little impact and blend into the scenery. After a visit to Cape Leveque and a game of beach cricket we sailed overnight to Broome where we disembarked from our Kimberley coast adventure.

Lucky Phil and Marion at Silvergull Creek.
Prince Regent Falls. King rowed up here for fresh water 190 years ago.

We flew back to KNX to resume our foray into the Kimberley by 4WD. KNX itself is and has some amazing attractions. The Hidden Valley national park right in the middle of KNX is a mini bungles and is just beautiful at sunrise and sunset. We did the Ord river cruise down to the dam. They throw in a terrific lunch and expert commentary on the whole Ord river water scheme. Very interesting. The Durack homestead, the Zebra rock gallery, the Hoochery Ord river rum distillery, Kelly’s knob look out are just a few of the things you can see and do while in KNX. Bruce the director of the Kimberely Cruise centre also lives in KNX and after getting to know him he showed us a side of KNX mostly the locals only know about. One of these was and I’m sure he wont mind me telling you about is Molly springs, its not sign posted and is 40km out of KNX on the way to Whyndam. A dirt road to the right with a big boab nearby is the marker. Water was warm, we had it to ourselves and there is even a BBQ set up there.

Ord River Dam.
Elephant Rock Lake Kununurra.

A visit to Whyndam to see the big Croc and the five rivers look out was something else. For southerners like us this was a real eye opener. The amount of water from up at the look out was staggering. We visited the museum where you get a handle on what it was like in Whyndam in its halcyon days with diggers arriving for the gold rush, the huge meatworks that was here and the activity generated from the port. The Afghan and pioneer cemeteries are worth as look and the caravan park says it has the biggest boab tree in captivity. We got to Whyndam by taking the track around the Cockburn ranges which runs off the GRR. This takes you through some pretty good scenery along the Chamberlain river and you can take the track to the Prison tree from here. Whyndam is then only a short drive from there. The turn off to this track is the eastern side of the Chamberlain river crossing just past El Questro. The first part of the track has some decent 4WD challenges.

The Big Croc.
Rivers lookout.

It was time to stock up and head out the Gibb River road. The good thing about KNX is its shopping and facilities. We were able to get all our meat and fresh veges and our cryovac machine was again used for 3-4 weeks worth of tucker.

We decided to stay at El Questro for 3 days and Emma gorge for one. Again these places are easy to get to and they were chock full of tour buses and the camper trailer brigade. El Questro is set amongst some beautiful country side. With the Cockburn ranges on one side and typical Kimberley gorge and river country on the other. As with all the places we visited on the tourist trail in the Kimberley, they were staffed with people who were seasonal workers that really knew stuff all about the place and really didn’t make you feel you were somewhere special. El Questro has some special places and we saw them all with the highlights for us being the lookouts. Saddle back lookout is infact challenging and really should only be for experienced 4WDrivers only. Its one of those you must commit climbs with no turning back once underway.

Chamberlain River El Questro Brancos lookout.
Zebedee springs El Questro.

There are two levels to this lookout and the final leg to the summit being the tough bit. We stopped at the first level to have a chat with those parked there and none were game to venture up to the top. This proved a good thing for us as we spent a couple of nights we were there on top of Saddle back enjoying the sunset alone. The views are breathtaking and knowing your vehicles capabilities will see you up there easily. Zebedee springs was a decent hike and was only open until 12 noon to the peasants as the afternoons were reserved for those that stayed at the homestead for a grand a night. We spent a couple of hours in the warm springs relaxing as literally dozens of people came and went.

I wonder at the money a place like this could make if it pulled its head out of the clouds and served decent wholesome tucker that you would expect on an outback station. Confit of duck should be left in the City. No one we spoke to ate at the restaurant except for the bus tours who had no choice. It was that or starve. Imagine the steaks or the roast beef you should be able to get on a cattle station!! Oh well.

Cockburn Ranges.
Safari tent Emma Gorge.

Apart from the walk up Emma gorge which attracted heaps of people, there was little else to keep us there. We pushed on up the GRR and made it to Drysdale station by night fall. The Kulumbaru road up to Drysdale station wasn’t to bad with a few corrugated sections which were negotiated slow and steady. The station itself is well set up for tourists and provides fuel and the basics. They have a camp area with toilet and shower blocks and a great bar area under cooling trees with green grass. A communal fire is lit in the evening for those that want to sit back with a bevy and have a chat. Meals are also offered. Miners pool just up the road is another camp ground that has long drops only. You can swim in the river as we did to cool off and relax a while. We camped at the station and headed off early to get up to Kulumbaru. The first 100 k’s or so there was a fair bit of traffic as this is also the way to the Mitchell falls turn off.

Fridge phone Drysdale Station.
Miners Pool.

We had already done the falls earlier by chopper so we pushed on past the turn off to Kulumbaru. Past the turn off the traffic disappears and only the odd car is encountered. The track turns into minor road with good and bad sections. The upper reaches are remote with bad corrugations and grading is infrequent. There are many water crossings to encounter all of which were shallow.

There is a store at Kulumbaru open only at certain times. The basics can be bought here. The Mission sells petrol and has a shop where volunteers cook up reasonable take away. The rest of the town was a mess with rubbish everywhere and more dogs than you could count running around. The army was in town and there was heavy machinery everywhere. A young bloke named Daryl fixed a tyre for us and he had moved up there with his wife and absolutely loved the fishing. In fact all the volunteers that I spoke to at the mission were there for the fishing and the mission owned a boat for their use!! That’s one way to get help!! We spent some time at the mission, had lunch on the lawn under shady trees and checked out the church interior which was fascinating. The alter and pulpit are honed from solid slabs of timber and there is local art on the walls in the shape of murals.

Kulumbaru Road Northern section.
Water crossing Kulumbaru Road.
Alex and Paul.
Our camp at McGowan's Island.

Our advice on where to stay was definitely McGowan’s beach. It is run by Alex and Paul and they have set up a terrific place for the camper and fisherman alike. The sheltered sandy beach is ideal for launching the boat and there is green lawns and clean amenities. They work as Barra fisherman and barge drivers in the off season and have plenty of local knowledge. Good blokes and a great place to stay. They have plenty of plans and were at the time trying to get a solar system up and running. The other spots up there such as Honeymoon bay and Pago are not comparable. Next time I visit up here I wont be leaving home without my tinnie. The black Jew fish I saw coming in on the beach left me very envious indeed!!

Mission at Kulumbaru.
Mt Elizabeth station turnoff.

We explored all we could see and do at Kulumbaru and it is definitely on the radar for a future adventure. Even though we were in the Kimberely for some time, it really was a reconnoitre for future reference. We can now plan to visit places in further depth based on our preferences from experience. We had to head back the way we came to Drysdale station and that is where we again camped for the night.

The next morning it was off back down to the GRR and on to Mt Elizabeth station.

Mt Elizabeth Station is around 30kms from the GRR. It’s a pleasant corrugated track which crosses many waterways. I was pretty keen to meet Peter Lacy but unfortunately he was away at the time. The homestead is again manned by seasonal staff who this time proved more helpful. The old homestead was out of bounds which was disappointing as this was to be a history highlight for us. It is a working cattle station which has set up to cater for visitors. The camp area is great and well shaded and the amenities are clean and well maintained. Wood is delivered daily to the camp area and it is a great place to unwind and explore. It is from here also that access to Walcott inlet can be gained. They have put together some mud maps on what to see with some great destinations on offer after a fair effort. No track is easy up here as the landscape is rock and more rock. The track to Wunumarra Gorge was only 10 kms as the crow flys but was a 5 hour rock crawling experience and a 1 hour walk any mountaineer would of found challenging, there and back.

Wunumarra Gorge Mt Elizabeth Station.
Mustering truck Mt Elizabeth.

Once there the warm waters above the falls into the gorge were perfect for a swim. We had it to ourselves and on the way out encountered some scientists on foot on their way to the gorge to investigate the turtle population. They had parked off the track 7 kms back and walked as they didn’t want to wreck their 4WD on which was a pretty ragged old track. In fact not many vehicles must travel past the point they stopped as when we got to the end of the track where the walk started, the track was not visible. Low range first was how we did it, maybe it would have been quicker to walk!! My chassis would agree. You have to have a go though don’t you!! Warla water hole on the Hann river is another good picnic spot. A book written by a local about the Lacey family mainly Frank, Peters father is a good read and gives an insight into the hardships faced whilst establishing this part of Australia. This book is available at the homestead.

Frank Hahn tree.
Winjina Gorge.

After a relaxing stay at Mt Elizabeth it was back on the GRR and on to Mt Barnett Road house for lunch and fuel. What a busy place this is. People everywhere and the kitchen had a heart attack. Nearby will see the turnoff through a gate to one of the Frank Hann blazed trees. This is dual blazed and the other side may be Brockman. The tree is 7kms from the GRR. We were making for Windjana gorge that night and pushed on through the King Leopold ranges. Magnificent country. King Leopold Ranges Conservation Park covers an area of 392,100 hectares. They were named by Alexander Forrest in 1879 after King Leopold of Belgium. Many gorges are located in this conservation park including Bell Gorge, Silent Grove, Lennard Gorge, Yellow man and Mt Mathew. Napier range and the Queen Victoria head granite out crops are fantastic. You can camp at Bell Creek or at Silent Grove or if you want to lash out, Mt Hart wilderness lodge.

View from the camp ground at Windjana Gorge.
Entrance to Windjana Gorge.

Got to the camp ground late afternoon at Windjana Gorge looking forward to a quiet camp and fire and an early night. Alas it too was chockers with 100’s of people. We headed over to the generator area where it was noisy but less inhabited. You have to expect this as this place and other tourist Mecca’s such as the Bungles and Mitchell falls as they are on the tourist bus, caravan and camper trailer must see destinations.

We were up at 5am and off into the gorge and had a quite and relaxing walk. We got some great shots and footage of the Freshwater crocs coming on the shore to bask one by one as the sun came up. It is quite a majestic place early in the morning. As we were heading back for breakfast we ran into the hoards heading into the gorge. It pays to get up early.

Richardson's grave at Derby.
Lillmaloora Police station ruins.

After breakfast we packed camp and headed for “Lillmaloora” as it was pronounced at the time it was in use. If it was good enough for them its good enough for me.

This is the area that is infamous for the exploits of Jandamarra or “Pigeon”. Pigeon was a Black tracker who worked for the Police. A change of heart saw him turn revolutionary and kill Policeman William Richardson and set his kinfolk free from incarceration. The way the blacks were treated and chained it is easy to understand why. Pigeon remained on the run for 2 years with an organized band of blacks attacking white settlers and stock until he was found and shot at his hideout at tunnel creek. Tunnel creek which was our next stop was a perfect hide out. The entrance was a bit tight but once inside its cavernous appearance is breathtaking. Half way along the cave roof has collapsed allowing much (by this stage) welcomed daylight and air into the tunnel. It is very dark so a torch is a must and wear your togs or shorts and protective footwear as in spots it is very rocky underfoot. The road to tunnel creek from Wandjana gorge was a shocker. Very corrugated in parts. Once back on the GRR we turned left and made a Bee line for Derby.

Tunnel Creek where the roof had collapsed.
Tunnel Creek.

We stayed at the “King Sound resort”. It looks flash but has had its day. The rooms were comfortable and the tucker OK. There is much to see in Derby so after we checked in we hit the road. A drive down to the jetty to witness low and high tide is a must as the difference is a massive 30 feet plus of tidal movement. We were lucky to see both and witness a large barge being loaded. The attractions in Derby are easy to find such as Myalls bore and trough, the prison Boab etc. The Pioneer cemetery was harder but worth as this where we found the grave of Constable Richardson who was the victim of Pigeon.

Myalls bore and trough.
The Prison Boab at Derby.

The key to Wharfingers museum can be obtained from the tourist bureau and is worth a look. Plenty of the towns maritime, pastoral history and early communication equipment to look at and lots to read. There are chairs and tables to sit down on, so take a drink and relax and catch up on some history. Flights out of Derby to the horizontal falls seems to be big business and the old Jail is also worth a look. We relaxed for a few days at Derby and then headed for Broome.

We spent two weeks in Broome and could of stayed for months. What a great place and cable beach is to die for. If you want to relax go to Broome. A typical day would be a sleep in and hit cable beach. The atmosphere is great and the sand is white and firm. Pull up your truck, out with the chairs the brolly and the esky, read a book and get a tan!!

Frosty's pool.
Aboriginal grave yard at rear of Pioneer cemetery.

Lots of attractions such as the outdoor Sun cinemas, camel rides the stairway to heaven etc. There was a market each weekend and of course the pearls and the pearling industry itself. Most of china town is related to selling Pearls. We went into 7 of the snobby establishments before we received some acknowledgment. The lucky manageress who was terrific would of got her bonus as Karen had decided she liked what she saw. Buyer beware though as there is various shapes and grades of pearls and some that are not pearls at all. Genuine south sea pearls is the way to go and a certificate of authenticity from a credible seller is a must detailing the shape size and value. You never know who your speaking to so do as we do and treat all people as you find them.

The Japanese cemetery is an eye opener as is the museum. There is a lot or as little to do as you want, but alas it was time to move on. We now had to make our way back to Halls Creek and stock up for our trip down the Canning stock route.

Sun Pictures.
Bronze statues/memorials China town.

We were now back on the bitumen and heading east on a pretty boring old road. The next stop for us was a night at Fitzroy crossing. Its part of the caravan circuit and its main attraction is Geikie gorge. Its also handy to Windjana Gorge and Tunnel creek from the south. The caravan park motel complex reflects this and is huge. It was chock full of campers who must use this facility as a staging point for the already mentioned attractions. The town itself is a dump and the crossing inn which has a lot of history was a swill hole. As usual we drove around for hours looking at all we could find of our heritage. The info centre was well equipped but really didn’t know much about the towns past and old deserted places of interest. If you didn’t want to know about Geikie gorge you were in trouble. We had our notes and found most of what we were looking for.

Old Fitzroy River crossing.
Geikie Gorge.

We spent the night at the motel had room service and reflected on our Kimberley adventure. Tomorrow it was off to Halls creek where it all started as we finished our circuit of the Kimberley. You could spend years up here investigating all that’s possible. For us however time was up and we could only dream about the next time we would have the time and resources to do it again. With the exception of one or two things, we saw all we had pencilled in as must sees and visits and were pretty chuffed that this place is in Australia. We live in the best place in the world so if the chance arises to see this place, grasp it with both hands and go. We will be back some day and know there is some fantastically remote and romantic places up here where we can fade away into.

See you on the road.
Mark and Karen.

Sunset Cable beach.
We love Australia.