The Magic Kimberley – we’re back! We had such a great time last year, and this year we want to “do the Gibb”! We drove over the NT/WA border and into Kununurra - so great to be back there, we love it! We’re doing the Gibb from west to east, so first up is Derby!
We stayed at the Fitzroy River Lodge on the way last night and did the sunset boat tour of Danggu Geikie Gorge. It was just lovely. Michael was in his element with all the birdlife and the tour guide really knew her stuff! She says it's part of an ancient limestone barrier reef over 350 million years old! The rock formation was incredible, Michael was impressed by how many birds he spotted and we even saw a freshwater crocodile on the banks of the river.
We planned to be in Derby today so we could go to the Mowanjum Festival – it’s part of the Derby Boab Festival in July every year and includes an authentic Corroboree. What a lovely evening we had - the Corroboree was just fantastic! The night sky, the dancers and the little kids in their traditional costumes. I can’t believe Michael danced, what a night!
Earlier in the afternoon we went to a place just outside Derby that one of Michael’s new birdwatching mates told him about. Of course, we got lost for half an hour but we finally found the place and spent the morning with a flock of whistling ducks. Actually, it was quite a sight – I’ve never seen anything quite like it! And yes, they really did whistle.
Derby was a nice little surprise. Big old wide streets lined with boab trees (I could imagine back in the day the drovers herding the wild Kimberley cattle down to the port on their horses). It has a big supermarket, a caravan park and two large hotels/motels – we stayed at the Derby Lodge.
We also popped into Derby Visitor Centre – they run a one-day bus tour of Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek. We booked to go on the tour instead of going on our own because with the tour we had a guide from the Bunuba people, Traditional Owners of the area.
Here’s a big tip for you – Derby Visitor Centre publishes an annual guide to the Gibb River and Kalumburu Roads - don’t start the Gibb without it! We popped into the Centre to get ours, but the lovely lady who helped us said that they also send them out by post.
Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek Day Tour
Up early for our tour, it’s actually nice to sit back and let someone else do the driving! The scenery along the road was some of the best we’ve seen on this trip! The hills and all the boab trees were just stunning. I think we’re in the Wunaamin Miliwundi Ranges Conservation Park now?
Met our tour guide (one of the Traditional Owners) called Dillon from Bungoolee Tours at a place called Tunnel Creek and we made our way into an amazing tunnel (now I know why we needed head torches). It wasn’t an easy walk and I sometimes do think to myself- why didn’t we do this trip when we were younger? But we're here now and loving it!
Dillon told us the story about a young local Aboriginal man called Jandamarra who was a Bunuba leader. Jandamarra frequented these areas and had a run-in with the law and used Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek as his hideouts. Note to self - buy the book Jandamarra when we get to Kununurra.
We followed Dillon through the tunnel as he pointed out rock art, stalactite chandeliers, stalagmites, waterfalls and even a water monitor!
The end of the tunnel with the sunlight shining through was just stunning!
We then drove to Windjana Gorge, had a delicious picnic lunch and walked the ‘easy walk’ (thank goodness) into the gorge to see the famous Johnstones of Windjana (freshwater crocodiles) laying on the banks! Couldn’t stop taking photos of the mighty Gorge. What a magical spot! The campground even had hot showers.
What a day and that tunnel walk - wow! Back to Derby for the night before heading to Bell Gorge tomorrow.
Our destination today was Bell Gorge - it’s about 240km from Derby so we set out early as there’s a bit of a walk to get to the gorge itself. It took more than an hour to walk in, but was well worth it! So glad we wore our swimmers, the little rock pools at the top of the gorge were so nice to paddle in.
Michael was in birdwatching mode, but we both enjoyed the walk and just spending time soaking it all in, and having a soak in the cool water of course!
We got chatting to a family who said they said they were staying at a nearby station called Mt Hart Wilderness Lodge - sounds like a great spot! Note to self, look up Mt Hart for our next visit. We’d booked into the APT Bell Gorge Wilderness Lodge and I absolutely love it, so relaxing after our big day adventuring. I’m writing this by the campfire, glass of wine in hand after a delicious dinner, bliss! There’s a stargazing session just about to start, so this is it for today’s diary entry.
Mornington Wilderness Camp
After an early breakfast we hit the road again. First, I made Michael stop next to the lodge at Imintji campground/general store – we got a coffee for the road, and some fuel. There was an art gallery beside the store and I couldn’t help but buy one of the smaller paintings. I’ve hidden it under my car seat as I can just hear what Michael will say when he sees it!! I’m writing this in my diary so I don’t forget about my little purchase and where I hid it - for when I get home.
Today’s drive is shorter - 25km on the Gibb River Road to the Mornington Wilderness Camp turnoff, and then a leisurely 82km to the camp itself. Every time I mention this place Michael tells me all about this Gouldian Finch bird (I really hope he spots one!).
We checked into our beautiful safari tent and confirmed that we were booked in for dinner for the next two nights, then it was time to hope in our canoes to explore Dimond Gorge - just beautiful!
The next morning, Michael was up with the sparrows to join the early morning guided birdwatching tour. I relaxed on the deck and read my book - it was nice to do nothing and just recharge the batteries!
Michael was like a kid with candy when he got back from his tour as he finally spotted that elusive Gouldian Finch! They really are an amazing looking bird - the colours on their feathers are just so vibrant! The photo reminded me of my old eyeshadow!! Maybe that’s why he keeps me around ...
After a nanna nap, Michael was in such a good mood that we joined the Sir John Gorge Sunset Tour before dinner which we enjoyed immensely.
Galvans Gorge and Mt Elizabeth Station
We left Mornington early and stopped off at Galvan's Gorge, which we read wasn’t that hard a walk, and a perfect spot for a swim. So we carried our morning tea in with us. The guidebook was right. It only took us about 15 minutes to walk in – it was like finding a secret garden with its own swimming pool and waterfall. Picture perfect! Michael had a quick swim and we even found the rock art hiding under the trees!
We fueled up at Mount Barnett Roadhouse and brought a well-deserved icy pole and slowly made our way to Mt Elizabeth Station which is a working cattle station - however, we weren’t going for the cattle, we were going to see the BIRDS!! I’ve been told - "there are over 40 species you know Denise!" 40!
We checked in and took a drive to Warla Gorge - Michael was in his element and I even had a swim! This morning we’re off to another gorge, and we have even been given directions to find some rock art – how exciting!
Ellenbrae Station and Home Valley Station
After another lovely evening at Mt Elizabeth Station it was time for our longest drive – 248km to Home Valley Station. We found the most beautiful scones on the way at Ellenbrae Station and the young man who served me was the Station Manager (I think he said his name was Logan) and he said that they make over 15,000 scones a year!! Wait till I tell the CWA ladies that one back in Tamworth.
Our Safari Tent at Home Valley Station was just what we needed after our long day's drive.
I’m quite surprised how big Home Valley Station is - two pools and a fantastic big restaurant. Tonight they have live music which I’m looking forward to. Michael has taken the car down to the river with his bird book and I’m relaxing in our lovely safari tent before dinner.
Before we left Home Valley Michael took me for a drive down to the river and to their big campground. What a view across the water and with the mountain range behind it, great camp spot! The barman told us last night that Home Valley Station was where they filmed the movie Australia with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman (must re-watch when I get home).
On the way to El Questro we drove over the famous Pentecost River. I tried to film it but of course I didn’t have the blooming iPad turned on properly!
El Questro was as far as we got on our travels last year, so once we arrived there we could officially say we have driven the Gibb! And we’re still alive and still together!!
We booked into a river-view room at the Station for two nights, and got straight into exploring. The first afternoon we drove to Pigeonhole Lookout for sunset, just stunning! Then we decided to join a tour in the morning. We did a hike to El Questro Gorge (well actually to be correct – we walked halfway to El Questro Gorge which is meant to be the best and easiest part of the walk). It was a little hard going in some spots, however, we just took it easy and got there in the end - the rock pool at the end was well worth the walk.
Had a delicious barra and chips for lunch which was all part of the tour and in the afternoon we went on the most amazing horse ride! It was fantastic – my horse was a palomino called George. The scenery was amazing. I felt just like Nicole in the movie – pity we didn’t find Hugh! I’ve forgotten how much we loved horse riding ... and what a sore bum feels like!!
Last night we heard a couple of barking owls, what an unusual sound. Michael had his bird book out in seconds to show me what it looks like! It really was just like a dog barking! Lovely dinner - so tired now I can hardly keep my eyes open – no reading tonight.
What a trip - I could do it all again tomorrow!