Written 20 August… thanks to Telstra, posted somewhat later!
After leaving Kakadu we had an overnight supply stop in Katherine with the absolute luxury of an ensuite site… ahhhh, what bliss to have our own bathroom right outside the tent door – to have the luxury of leaving our toiletries in the bathroom over night and not having to walk across camp for a midnight pee!
Our final stop in the Northern Territory was on the banks of the Victoria River at Big Horse Creek Camp, just outside of Timber Creek. Ben put the boat in with a final dash for a big Barra in NT waters. Ho hum, it was not to be, he did manage to pull in two at 40cm and 53cm fairly quickly after going out and thought he was on the money (Barra in this part of the NT have to be 55cm), but unfortunately there were no other biting beauties. Had he known what was to happen later in the day that 53cm fish may have been stretched a little!
We’ve hit Boab country now, it’s amazing that within the space of about 50kms you go from seeing no Boab trees to seeing them everywhere. They’re such a beautiful sight on the landscape, the shape of both the trunk and branches are really stunning and at this time of the year they are in fruit, so they look like outback Christmas trees with their baubles swinging. You can eat the inside of the nut, it has flesh similar to a coconut in that it lines the inside of the shell, it’s not especially nice though, a little sweet I suppose, but not something I’d go out of my way for.
Not far from Big Horse Creek is a very famous Boab, one that was blazed by Augustus Gregory on his 1855-56 expedition to Northern Australia. The expedition party arrived by boat at the mouth of the Victoria River in late 1855 and set out to explore into The Great Sandy Desert (in search of the ‘great inland sea’ which was thought to be in the centre of Australia at this time) and east in to the Roper River area. The Gregory Tree marks the spot where they set up base camp with the tree being marked with their arrival and departure dates.
After a month and a half and 7,500 kms in the Northern Territory we were again at the state border. We’ve seen some truly iconic Australian sights in the last six weeks, especially memorable are Uluru and Kakadu, but we have many more memories that will last a long time.
Onwards we go, into Western Australia, scoffing as much of our remaining fruit and vegetables before dumping the rest at the quarantine station on the border.
Lake Argyle is just over the WA border and made a good spot for lunch (minus any salad on our sandwiches!). Lake Argyle was created in 1972 with the damming of the Ord River, creating the largest man-made lake in Australia. Considering the size of the lake (something like 2000 sq km) the dam wall is fairly small. The irrigation that was possible from the damming of the lake created an agriculture industry on which the town of Kununurra was created. There is a secondary dam on the western side of Kununurra which creates Kununurra Lake. Our campsite was right on the shores of Lake Kununurra, a beautiful spot to gaze out upon and we could drive the boat almost to the door. No fishing attempts in Lake Kununurra, but we did go for a couple of sunset cruises.
We really liked Kununurra, it’s setting on the edge of the lake is very picturesque, I remember this from when we were here in 1996 too. I’m not sure that we’d be able to live with the alcohol restrictions though! With the midday opening, only low-alcohol drinks before 5pm and no cask wine at all you sure do need to be organised to get a wine around here!
There’s plenty to do around Kununurra, you could easily spend a couple of weeks here exploring the area. Before leaving and heading south to the Bungle Bungles we went for a quick stroll through Mirima NP on the edge of town, the rock formations in here are similar to the Bungles I guess and the climb up offers great views of the area, but what I found really entertaining was the Dreamtime stories of this site. The prominent rock formations in the area are part of the ‘head lice dreaming’ of the local people! Now my head’s itchy.
We arrived at Purnululu National Park to a haze covering pretty much everything. Smoke had blown in from wild fires near the NT/WA border, west of Tennant Creek. The Walardi campsite is still about 15kms from the Bungle Bungles themselves, so that sight had to wait for another day. Here’s hoping that the skies would clear for the following day because as it stood we weren’t going to get much of a view of anything! We had a very friendly Blue Winged Kookaburra hanging around the campsite here, he perched himself in a tree above the car for much of the time we were around.
The Bungle Bungles are truly impressive. When Ben and I were here 16 years ago in our VW Combi we were not able to come in and walk amongst them (4WD track in) so we splashed out and took a helicopter flight over the top. Now having been at ground level I’m not sure you can say the view by air or ground is any better than the other, both are brilliant, just different from each other.
We ventured first into ‘The Domes’ and ‘Cathedral Gorge’ where we were instantly among the orange and black domes that are the Bungle Bungles. Cathedral Gorge is spectacular, the kids had a great time playing in the sand there – ever so quietly as every sound reverberated around the walls of the gorge. Jake said later he was so tempted to yell out “Cooee!”. On the walk up to Cathedral Gorge you pass a series of potholes which have been gouged out by the scouring action of pebbles, sand and water during the wet season. We saw a lot of these potholes later in our journey up Piccaninny Creek.
Inspired by a family who we met in Kununurra, who’d been on a few overnight camps on their travels, we decided we’d ‘Bear Grylls’ it and camp out under the stars for a night. The kids were really excited about our adventure and although we’re not really set up for an overnight hike we managed to cobble together a couple of packs, bedrolls and sleeping bags to get cosy under. After our little jaunts into The Domes and Cathedral Gorge we headed up the Piccaninny Creek bed in search of Piccaninny Gorge. It was tough going. The first few kilometres were ok, where we were walking mostly on the stone riverbed surface, although there was little constant shade, so we were seeking out shady trees and overhanging rocks for our rest stops. After a while the terrain definitely got a lot more difficult with much of the surface now sand and loose pebbles. We had expected this change in the track, but it didn’t make it any easier!
We had lots of stops on the journey out, all up we must have walked about 10-11kms to get to the start of Piccaninny Gorge, which after seven hours of walking was as far as we wanted to go! There is a water hole near where we decided to camp so we could refill water bottles and have a supply of water overnight. You are able to continue up into Piccaninny Gorge another seven or so kms and branch off into five different side gorges, but that was really something for another time. We’d reached our limit and were quite happy to set up camp here.
Camp was in the bed of Piccaninny Creek, just spread out on the sand. With darkness setting in not much after 6pm at the moment we had an early dinner and were into bed. The shapes of the bungles in the night were fantastic and as the almost full moon rose in the sky you could see a huge amount of detail against the starry sky. Brilliant! Like I said before, we’d travelled fairly light, so we had a picnic blanket as a ground sheet, two inflatable bed rolls to lie across so everyone got a little bit of sponginess, two sleeping bags (Indi and Tobey who feel the cold got those), three sleeping bag liners for Ben, Jake and me and if we needed them, three foil emergency blankets. The nights have been fairly mild lately so we weren’t expecting to be too cold, especially huddled together as we were, but as the night wore on a cool breeze came down the gorge and we had the emergency blankets out, they work fantastically if you can get past the feeling of being inside a chip packet every time you move!
The sun ensured we were up early the next day and after a hot brekkie we’d set off for home by 7am. We were hoping that the downhill run, cooler part of the day and shorter distance (not having the extra side walks into The Domes and Cathedral Gorge) would see us back at the car before lunchtime. We blitzed it, making it back in four hours. The kids did such a fantastic job making it all the way, especially on the way out when it was pretty hot. Don’t get me wrong, they certainly had their moments of complaining, needed a few sugar hits to get them through and Indi had a little help from Daddy’s shoulders, but it was a difficult walk. My legs and feet were certainly feeling the effects by the time we got back. It will be a night we’ll all remember though, we had a great time and Indianna in particular kept saying how exciting it all was. perhaps next time we’ll choose an easier hike though!
We’ve seen as much as we have time to see of the eastern side of the Kimberley’s, our next adventure is across the Gibb River Road, through to Derby. With the reputation that the roads have in this part of the country we’ve tightened all straps, checked the spare tyres and made sure the windscreen insurance is all in place! Here’s hoping we get over the 10 millions corrugations and make it to the other end in one piece!