From the Bungle Bungle bungles in Purnululu Nat'l Park (shown on the right on the map above) we headed north to Kununurra, to provision for the traverse of the Gibb River Road, a 660 km gravel road through the heart of the Kimberly region (shown in red on the map). The Kimberly is Western Australia's remote northern region, home of huge (1,000,000+ acres) cattle stations, beautiful gorges and national parks, terrific Aboriginal rock art, great coastlines, and some of the best swimming holes anywhere! The road, though gravel, is mostly in fairly good shape, and hardly required 4 wheel drive. Some of the side excursions, well, a bit of a different story!
|One of many stream crossings.....no drama, mate!|
Leaving Kununurra, our first stop was El Questro Wilderness Park. We found this "theme park" wilderness experience to be a bloody bore, charging high fees for everything from tours, camping, and restaurants and beer, to trashy Chinese-made "genuine Outback souvenirs". We called the highly overrated tourist park "El Cost-o", and, especially after our terrific wilderness experiences on the Canning Stock Route and Bungle Bungles, was a big disappointment.
The entire Gibb River Road trip itself required quite a mental adjustment. The Kimberly, and the GRR, is a huge tourist destination for hordes of Australians. They come from all over the country for this major trip, sort of like Yellowstone National Park in the US. We had gotten spoiled by the deep wilderness and day after day of no human contact as we drove the Canning. We were now on a primary tourist circuit, and camping was mostly restricted to private campgrounds. The Gibb used to be a rugged 4x4 adventure, but today it is fairly accessible to camper trailers towed by a moderate 4wd family car. Though the areas were beautiful and perhaps somewhat remote, it really took a while to get used to the people all around us.
Leaving the Gibb River Road we headed 270 km north on a more rugged side road toward the Aboriginal settlement of Kalumburu, the most northernmost settlement in Western Australia (14 degrees S. latitude). The Aboriginal corporation charges a $50 permit fee to visit their area, but we had heard that "Honeymoon Beach" offered great camping, and were eager to put our feet into the crocodile infested Indian Ocean for the first time. Unfortunately, Honeymoon Beach was anything but, at least for those without their own boat. Though on a beautiful beach site, the run down, $30/night campground is mostly a fishing camp, and without a boat, there was little else to do.
|View from our tent site, our first of the Indian Ocean|
|Cindi holds court with Tasmanian friends Merve and Trudy under the shade of a Boab tree.|
Mitchell River National Park
From Kalumburu we headed for Mitchell River National Park, located up another 4wd track branching off from the Gibb/Kalumburu road. The main attraction, Mitchell Falls, is an easy 3 km hike from the campground.
Mitchell Falls (Punamii-unpuu) itself is a beautiful 4 tiered waterfall, having great cultural and spiritual significance to the original inhabitants of the area, the Wunambal people. Though quite spectacular now, our visit to this area is during the dry season, and we can imagine what the falls must be like during "the wet".
|1-meter long monitor lizard passed on the trail up to the falls.|
|Our chariot awaits!|
|4 tiers of the falls as seen from the air.|
Aboriginal Rock Art
The entire Kimberly region, and the Mitchell River Plateau in particular, is rich in early Aboriginal rock painting. Some of the art is quite accessible showing up in a guidebook to the area, other "galleries" require a bit of an Indiana Jones approach to explore, hiking and poking around likely rock outcroppings. We got into the hunt, and over a few days found many of the ochre paintings, some of them amazingly well preserved. While it has been difficult to accurately date the Aboriginal artwork (evidence shows that the Aborigines first appeared in Australia nearly 50,000 years ago), one rock painting was shown to be at least 17,500 years old. It was dated by carbon dating a wasp nest which had grown over part of the painting, which was found to be of that age.
Here are some of the better samples we found throughout the area.
|Painters from later eras often painted over previous works.....as though they didn't have enough rocks!!!|
|Cindi goes Indy Jones looking for the ancient bones we knew were in the area.....|
|And here they are, in an ancient burial crypt.|
|A painting of an echidna anteater is on the left|
|Cindi again in true Indy style!|
|Wanjina paintings, representing ancestral beings or spirits|
|Friend Merve and Cindi looking for more artwork|
|Ancient painter with a sense of humor.....note the hand print painted up the nose!!!|
Windjana Gorge National Park
After all of this gorging out on swimming holes for several days, we were ready for something a bit different. People told us about yet another gorge, called Windjana Gorge National Park. Supposedly the swimming was no good, because the river was inhabited by hundreds of freshwater crocodiles!!! Now we're talking!!!
|Crocs waiting for their next meal to swim by.....|
Here's a bit of video from the show.....
Finally we finished up the Gibb River Road at Derby. In the past, the GRR was considered very remote, just a gravel connector linking these huge cattle stations and a couple of Aboriginal communities to the outside world. Though still a gravel road, the trip now is one of the main highlights of the northern Australian tourist and gray nomad migration routes. Even with all of the camper trailers and caravans, it was still a fine tour, with all of the ties to the indigenous culture of the region, not to mention the fantastic swimming holes. We had a great time!!!
Next up.....Broome and Cape Leveque.......