Windjana is our last proper stop on our Gibb River trip. Once we turn off for the gorge we will not be heading further down the Gibb but will press on through to Fitzroy Crossing and Geikie Gorge.
The drive from Bell Gorge to Windjana takes about three hours. As you approach the turn-off to Windjana the landscape takes on a different dimension comprising massive sandstone escarpments, limestone reefs and what appear to be volcanic plugs. It is spectacular country laced and riven by massive rivers.
Just to ensure that we are not lulled into a false sense of security by the absence of anything having fallen off the vehicle for several days we get our second puncture of the trip. This time we have a tear in the sidewall, so it farewell to that tyre.
We stop for lunch at a free camping spot just metres from the Windjana turn-off where the Lennard River crosses the main highway. Like many of the free camping sites it is nicer than the paid camping spots and they are often less crowded as well. One just has to deal with the morons who are too lazy to dig a toilet hole and think that wads or streams of toilet paper decorated white and brown are a good adornment of any campsite. Kaylee takes the time to get find some ochre rocks and gets into a bit of local rock art. The next civilisation that comes along once ours has disappeared will be confused.
We arrive at Windjana in late afternoon. Kaylee is suffering from a sore neck from having nightmares the previous night. Following Roger’s nightmare, Kaylee has been psychologically disturbed by a dream about being unable to finish her shopping in the IGA among other things. In order to hide from guests who were to be fed by the food but are now starving, she was forced to hide her legs between her head and this has given her a cricked neck.
Fortuitously she has managed to arrange it so that we are camped directly next to Jerome, a masseur from Victoria, who is travelling with his partner in a blue Kombi and who is able to restore the neck to something approaching operational status. I had already tried to fix Kaylee’s neck in the morning but after Jerome’s massage my status as masseur is significantly downgraded. Were I a film, it would be “I give it one star, David.”
Like many of the other campgrounds the facilities are good but it is hot and dusty and we put off going to the gorge until tomorrow. In lieu of being completely lazy we all take some short walks around the bush adjacent to the gorge.
Windjana gorge is created by the Lennard river cutting through the Napier Range which is a part of a massive and ancient coral reef that was shipwrecked here by the retreating oceans as the planet cooled 450 million years ago. The Napier range is part of a Devonian reef complex that extends for some 350 km along the northern margin of the Canning Basin. It skirts all around the Kimberley to join with similar reefs in the Ningbing Range, near Kununurra and also includes Tunnel Greek and Geikie Gorge.
We follow the outer walls of the reef which stands 100 metres high and is red but stained black by oxidation and/or minerals. The sun is setting behind us and away from the wall the temperature is dropping but as one closes in on the wall the black rock acts like a giant radiator giving off masses of heat. As the sun drops the walls light up in a gold red glow punctuated by the silhouettes of boabs. It is one of those moments of light and colour that come rarely in a lifetime.
We retire to camp to cook dinner and relax. The big news of the night is that Jill is happy with the toilets and showers. We are required to receive a Jill-dunny report at each campground we visit. This urge to dunny analysis has been created by her trauma at having to live for 20 odd years without an en suite at her house. Consequently we get a star rating analysis of the dunny situation as part of the normal travel arrangements. The state of the dunny is in fact more important than whether the car has oil and only marginally less important that a non-stop supply of tea.
The camp manager comes around to check on fees and Jill questions her about the lights in the distance. She tells us it is a diamond mine and has a communications contract with Optus. Consequently Windjana is the only place in the Kimberley one can get Optus reception. Optus advertises that it covers 95% of Australians but doesn’t tell you that they all live in about 5% of Australia (the coast and major regional centres) and that it has no reception anywhere else.
The news on the mine is received with some relief by Roger who up until this point has refused to stand up for the last hour. It appears that somewhere in his childhood he was traumatised by the possibility of being kidnapped by aliens and the presence of unknown lights has reactivated this trauma. Worse still this trauma is compounded by the fact that, according to Roger, in all the alien films he has seen, the aliens all torture/carry out the equivalent of scientific whaling by penetrating their human captives with anal probes. Roger’s fear of being anally probed by the nearby aliens that he has remained seated for hours and now has constipation, so over the next days the toilet stops are extended. Perhaps alien probes are the solution.
Aside from freedom from concerns about alien captivity, the other result of the Optus information there is a mad scramble to re-fit Optus sim cards to phones. We have lost Roger since he is now marooned on top of the vehicle for the entire night trying to get the one bar of Optus reception. Periodically, when he is not actually talking on the phone, he sticks his head over the side of the roof and we feed him a spoon of dinner. Roger’s sacrifice is not in vain and every five minutes we get updates via Roger, from son Arlen, on the Super 15 rugby union final and the ultimate one point victory of the Waratahs. Roger is so happy he almost falls off the vehicle roof.
Kaylee also gets into the act and we press Jill’s ear-ring into action once again. Kaylee has an iPhone which is one of these antiquated which were widely used for mobile communication prior to the invention of android phones. In order to get the sim card out, one needs a pin and Jill has the only one available.The constant insertion and removal of the ear-ring must by now be wearing a large track in her ear.
Our other near neighbours are a father and daughter combination who have driven out in the daughter’s old commodore station wagon. Emily has retired early to a luxurious sleep in the back of the station wagon leaving her Dad stuck alone in the campground and destined to pass a long uncomfortable night in the front seat. So we invite him over for drinks and it turns out that he works for the WA Water authority. Among their concerns is keeping CSG drilling and extraction out of their catchments but, as with most Australian state governments, it seems the almighty dollar is all which interests them and they are losing the battle to protect water catchments in the face of massive pressure from the mining industry.
In the morning we head of early to the gorge. Aside from being physically impressive it is incredibly interesting geologically and the limestone abounds with fossilised marine creatures of all shapes and sizes, such as fossilised giant crocodile some thirty metres above the current river level in a cave. There are also more freshwater crocs than one can poke a stick at and we count 40 altogether on our walk. The track abounds with bird life and we add to our twitcher score with some more varieties of fig bird and honeyeaters. The track is only 2.5 kilometres long but by the time we have scoured every corner of the gorge and stopped to look at about 50 birds it is already lunch-time and the gorge walls are already pumping out heat from their blacks surfaces. It’s something of a relief to exit and return to camp.
Roger and Jill set off before Kaylee and I and are already back. They have retreated to the sanctuary of their tent which is covered by sarongs pegged on by our entire supply of pegs. As a result every time we do the washing another item of our clothing makes a getaway never to be seen again. The landscape is littered with clean jocks and socks everywhere from Mornington onwards. As a result of the construction it is alternatively referred to as the sarong sanctuary or the senile sanctuary depending on the recent memory performance of the occupants.
Despite the wear and tear of packing and unpacking we are frequently rescued from difficult situations by the ubiquitous Australia Post. This box has now traveled across the entire continent and continues to be pressed into service for multifarious uses such as yoga mat, pot stand etc. As a result we have now rewarded it with its own chair on which it watches sunrise and sunset with the rest of us.
We start pulling the tent down for our departure for Tunnel Gorge and then on to Fitzroy Crossing. The packing up has taken on a new dimension since, effectively, Roger and Jill must now pack up two tents. The process involves opening up their tent on the roof, removing the mattress and other contents, then putting up their own ground based tent, inserting the contents from the roof tent and then finally folding up the roof tent again. To leave the reverse process must be followed.
Once this is done the final stage is packing the magic pudding as Jill’s and Roger’s case is known. This involves completely opening the case and stuffing as much in it as possible. Once done, there is a pile of clothing poking out of the case roughly three times its height. Either Roger or Jill then kneels on the pile and attempts to stuff errant items down the side while the other party attempts to close the lid. This is a bit like watching a porn star with an erection try and close his fly (not that any of us will ever have seen that).
Despite the obstacles to departure we are out of the camp ground by around 11 am. We head off for Tunnel Gorge via a quick stop at the ruins of the police station which was used during the war against local Bunaba people. The most famous of the resistance leaders was Jandamarra who started as a police tracker and later led the resistance against the local police and settlers.
Tunnel Creek was one of his main hideouts and we arrive for a walk through the gorge that has been cut underground through the ancient reef. We arrive to be greeted by three giant Brahmin bulls that are clearly Buddhist as they are entirely docile. We are fortunate to have the place to ourselves other than two of the resident freshwater crocs as we are wading through. The absence of other people in the gorge allows one to sense how it might have been when Jandamarra and his resistance fighters were using the tunnel.
The cave system that comprises the tunnel are massive and we walk under enormous ceilings of stalagmites and other limestone formations. The tunnel is pitted with other caves that go off far beyond the walls of the tunnel and the creek is fed by a spring that emerges from the walls part way down. It is an impressive end to our gorge walking.
We leave Tunnel Creek and take the road south to Fitzroy Crossing but night starts falling before we arrive. So we pull up at an old quarry site which is mentioned in the bush camping guide which Kaylee has purchased. It’s a beautiful site with views over the entire surrounding areas of bush but the swimming hole, sadly, is not inviting.