Saturday, May 30, 2009

Gibb River Road Adventure Part 1 - In Search of the Freudian Grinch

It's been an age since we've had phone reception (and a shower for that matter) which explains the blogging hiatus. As well as denying all our die hard followers a regular update it is really tough to encapsulate the feelings of the moment nearly 3 weeks after the fact. I am keeping a journal therefore I get leg one of the Gibb River Road. This adventure too vast for one blog entry.
*The GRR-Fairfield Leopold Downs intersection East of Derby. The beginning of our Kimberley Grand Tour.

*A boab forest- these trees can be huge and have that incredible prehistoric and very distinct profile. The Kimberley is an ancient landscape with many formations billions of years old, a lot of weathering has gone into the creation of gorges and bluffs. The end result is a stunning and striking wilderness of vibrant colour and life. Reds, blues, green and yellow dominate the vista interupted by the perferct white and sulphur of a flock (ought to be called a screech) of corellas.

The Gibb River Road (GRR) is considered one of Australia's great 4WD treks, it follows the old beef road established in the 1950's to open up the pastoral country to road transport. It traverses some 700kms through the central Kimberley Plateau from King Sound at Derby to Cambridge Gulf at Wyndham - just for the record we started from Broome and have finished in Kununurra where it is currently RAINING.This section has been a major focus for us over the course of the trip and we were itchy to get off the tarmac again. Impassable in the wet season, the road is generally good enough for towing trailers and off road caravans - though why you'd bring a conventional 2WD option out here beats me. Some sections had been just graded, in particular the western end was mostly good, corrugations aside. We've had some pretty deep river crossings and numerous shallow creek crossings. We lost 2 from a dozen eggs to the corrugations. The troopy is full of powder fine pink-red dust and makes a funny squeaky sound after passing through deep water. Average speed for us was 60-80km/hour no matter who is driving. Road trains and livestock are just a few of the many hazards on these roads but DUST DUST DUST is the big danger. It's like driving blind for a good minute or two after passing another vehicle especially if they're doing 110km/hour - and some of them do. They must hate their vehicles.

The iPhone is showing signs of stress and various nuts and bolts have vibrated loose and some have come clean off. All that aside the GRR has afforded us an amazing tour of the Kimberley region with it's stunning gorges, waterfalls, rivers full of crocodiles, semi arid savannah landscape, incredibly coloured and ancient ranges and new birds for the bird-nerd to tick off.
*Geike Gorge near Fitzroy Crossing.

After stocking up good and proper in Broome we said goodbye to Rob, Woo, the beautiful baby Eddie and the little brown dog and made our way to Fitzroy Crossing. A bit of a must do for us as Mikky worked there for a few months last year. It also served as a convenient jump off point for Geike Gorge, Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge NP. We did drop past the Crossing Inn twice, the first time potentially for a beer. Both times the punters were swinging and the second time every copper in town was in attendance. We gave it a miss.
*Tunnel Creek - you can walk right through but it required much wading in fairly deep and very cold water. I was being a little precious about my shoes and didn't feel entirely comfortable with the wading in freshie infested water.

After a lovely night at the Fitzroy River Lodge we made an early start for Geike. We missed the boat cruise so walked the couple of kms in sand up the gorge in the hope for crocs. Not a one. We also stopped at Tunnel Creek armed with head torches which turned out to be unneccessary due to a tour bus being ahead. We didn't go too far in though we've since heard from some who did go in that they saw crocodiles in the underground creek system. Spooky.

*Windjana crocodile sign - the first of many.
Windjana had crocodiles. Heaps of them. Everywhere. These are the freshwater variety, Crocodylus johnstoni , and Payniac has started to call me freshie.

*A couple of freshies sunbaking at Windjana.
Relatively harmless apparently unless you start pulling tails, they eat fish and turtles and such small fare. Both Mikky and Mr.Ranger said sure you can go for a swim, just walk on up the gorge and jump in. Too many crocodiles for this little scaredy cat. We stopped at Windjana for two nights as it was a lovely shady spot with the camp ground a very short walk from the camp ground.

*More freshies at Windjana.
We also encountered our first Great Bowerbirds at Windjana, they build cool little houses and collect all manner of white things as well as various fruits and pretties for a bit of home decoration to attract the ladies. Funny birds.*The Bower of the Great Bowerbird - these birds were noisy and very active around the camp ground collecting jewells for their displays.

*An Australian Bustard - seems to be fairly common in this part of Aust. It's the largest flying bird in Aust weighing in at ~12kg.

From Windjana we headed into King Leopold NP hoping to visit Lennard Gorge (where a tourist recently fell to his death) and camp at Bell Creek camp ground. Both were closed for different reasons and we opted for our first bush camp in ages. Bell Gorge was very pretty with a lovely waterfall - swimming OK above the falls but not below, apparently crocs don't climb waterfalls.
*Bell Gorge and cascades.

I did see a crocodile in Bell Creek as we crossed - there will be no more wading across rivers and creeks to check the depth. We'll just have to take our chances and hope the troopy can take it.

*Bell Creek with our first lily pad pond. I'm sure we've got lots more of these but they're so pretty.

*Bushcamping on Bell Creek

Providing you're self sufficient bush camping is great fun, really increases the chances of having the spot to yourselves. What it really means for the Payniac is FIRE. He busied himself making a beautiful fire which I justified by roasting the last (already!) of the fresh veggies and made a damper. Delicious.

*Damper - yum. There was enough left over for toast in the morning which was a real treat as we'd already run out of shop bread.

*Imintji Store. The cheapest diesel on the GRR at 197c/L. We also managed to get a loaf of (frozen) bread. Apart from Aboriginal communities there are really no towns along the GRR so roadhouses play a vital role. Most can help you out with mechanical repairs and tyres although this isn't Sydney, they generally close from 1-2pm everyday for lunch and are closed from midday on Saturday until Monday morning. The ones we stopped at also had a great collection of images in some corner showing people who had come unstuck over the years. One of my personal favourites was titled the "Kimberley Car Wash" and involved several vehicles stranded in the middle of a swollen river. Another showed what happens to your car when you hit a bullock at 60km/hour - it's bad news for everyone. These 'disaster corners' serve to remind us tourists that this is a remote area and although people are generally only too willing to help it might be hours before you can be assisted- by which time the Kimberley Car Wash will have done the interior as well.

From Bell Creek we headed to Mornington Wilderness Camp.

*Sir John Gorge

This was a must stop after getting the heads up from Andy's boss, whose parents said it was incredible. And it was! Purchased by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy only a few years ago, they've destocked and de-weeded the property along with other management strategies to revert the land to it's natural state in the hope of conserving habitat and therefore halting the extinction of Aussie critters (we have a very bad record). We had 3 lovely nights at Mornington with no shortage of stuff to do; canoeing down the Fitzroy in Dimond Gorge, one of the Kimberleys most stunning, a glimpse of Sir John Gorge, bird watching to your hearts content with many endangered birds on the list including the Gouldian Finch a.k.a the Freudian Grinch.

*Dimond Gorge (left) and Cadjeput Waterhole where we found another canoe ripe for the paddling.

*Crimson Finch - the common cousin of the Goldian Finch.The Gouldian proved elusive but I am hoping to see them at another hotspot ahead.

*Reflections on Dimond Gorge. We spent a few hours messing about in a boat on Dimond Gorge. A lovely way to see the gorge and very good for sneaking up on birds. We pretty much had the gorge to ourselves so we just soaked up the silence.

Although you see a lot of the country from your vehicle the Kimberley requires a bit of effort. There's lots of walking and scrambling to be done and you're generally rewarded with amazing views or incredible waterfalls. It's hard country and I have respect for the folk that make their living out here - both the indigenous people and the pastoralists. It's much wetter than I thought it'd be, lots of water in the rivers and most falls - that's one advantage of coming early in the dry. The Kimberley has been unlike my expectations mostly because I didn't know what to expect. It's very easy to see why people fall in love with it. It is a fantastic wilderness, rugged and unforgiving. And the climate is perfect!

Once we left Mornington we continued East along the GRR but not without an exciting side trip up the Kalumburu Road which Payniac will cover in GRR-Part 2. We're both a little sad that this leg is over but the end of one adventure heralds the beginning of another. We have 2 weeks to get to Darwin via Purnululu and Wolfe Creek as Candi & Steffen are coming to join us on our all Aussie Adventures for a week.

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