Fitzroy Crossing

The Kimberley region is the most northern of the nine regions that make up Western Australia. It is bounded by the Indian Ocean to the west, the Timor Sea to the north, the Northwest Territory to the east and the Great Sandy and Tanami deserts to the south. The region was named after the 1st Earl of Kimberley, the Secretary of State for the Australian colonies in the 1870s and 80s.

Melinda booked us on a 9-day APT Tour of the region. Our 4-wheel drive tour bus was our coach for the next leg of our Australian trip. It had the same size tires as the Roamer but came in at twice the weight. The suspension was nice in that it handled the washboard roads, or corrugated roads as they say in Australia, much better that the Roamer.

Our driver and guide for the trip was Ray, an Irishman that had travelled the world and knew the Kimberley region very well. He was part botanist, herpetologist (reptile expert) and geologist, which combined made for a great tour guide.

We were initially a little skeptical of him as a driver because after picking us up first in a pre-dawn location, Ray proceeded to get lost on his way to the next pick-up location about ½ mile away …. in the hamlet of Broome. I was able to guide him back on course using Google Maps on my phone. While town navigation may have not been his strength, knowledge of the backcountry more than made up for that initial lapse of navigation.

After we picked up the other tour folks, sixteen in all, we knew he was going to be a good guide when he whipped the 40-foot bus around to go back and see this Mulga, or King Brown snake making it way across the road. It’s one of the largest venomous snakes in the world, reaching lengths of 10 feet long. This was a smaller 6-foot version that crossed in front of us.

Our first stop was the Boab Prison Tree. The Boab is called the upside-down tree because without leaves it looks like the roots are above ground. The story is that the tree did something bad and it was turned upside-down by the spirits. It’s related to the boabab trees in Madagascar and it’s thought that the large boabab seed nut floated across the Indian Ocean to create these trees. Leaves do sprout on the tree when there is an abundance of water.

The Prison Tree is 1,500 years old and named for its use as a resting point for the Aboriginal prisoners on their way to the nearby town of Derby in the early settlement days.

Near the tree was this incredibly long watering trough. This was sheep and cattle country and the area was probably used as the round-up location, due to its location near the major road, prior to shipping the stock to market.

Our next stop was Windjana Gorge. We picked up our seventeenth and final tour passenger there. It was a lady flying in from England that experienced some flight delays getting to Broome. The tour company, who had also booked her flights, hired a small plane and flew her from Broome out to the dirt airstrip near the Gorge to catch up with our group.

The entrance to Windjana Gorge was a small tunnel through the rock.

Looking up, the rock walls of the gorge were very colorful.

The Lennard River, which runs through the gorge, was reduced to billabongs, or small pools of water during the dry “winter” season. As we would better understand during this trip, during the wet “summer” season between November and April the Kimberley region can get anywhere from 20 to 50 inches of rainfall. The ground does not absorb it and the quiet little billabong areas like this become 20-foot deep rivers running with incredible force due to the gathering waters upstream.

We didn’t go swimming here. There was a healthy supply of fresh-water crocodiles enjoying the afternoon sun, awaiting a stupid tourist looking for the perfect selfie – lol.

I nearly walked into one croc. Look closely at the photo. I didn’t even see him next to the water until I was a couple of steps away. Fresh-water crocodiles, or “freshies” as they are called, grow to about 6 feet in length and are not aggressive. Their salt-water cousins are the ones you need to respect. Salt-water crocodiles grow to 20 feet in length and possess a bad attitude. Warning signs are posted everywhere “salties” are known to live and hunt.

We spotted a tree full of these Little Corellas in the gorge.

We also saw some Black Kites in the parking area around the gorge.

The landscape along the dirt roads looked flat and barren this time of year. Huge termite mounds began to dominate the area, where the termites clear the brush and smaller vegetation for their food.

Our next stop was Tunnel Creek, a mile-long tunnel through the rock mountain.

There is some Aboriginal art on the walls in the tunnel, but no one has yet determined the age of the drawings.

As we were just about to enter the tunnel, we noticed a “freshie” on the banks near the entrance. As we waded through the water in the tunnel, using only our flashlights, or torches as the Australians say, our guide spotted a few other croc eyes in the water. Luckily, we did not see them so ignorance is truly bliss.

It was a pretty cool cave with an opening at about the midway point to let in a little light prior to the second half of the cave.

Parts of the cave had stalagmites and stalactites. Stalagmites extend up from the ground and “might” reach the ceiling one day, while stalactites extend down from the ceiling and hold “tight” to the ceiling.

The far end was a huge tunnel opening. It was then we also realized we needed to turn around and go back through the crocs in the dark to get back to the bus. Who thinks of these tours? At least we weren’t covered in raw chicken.

We stopped for the night at Fitzroy Crossing Lodge. Wallabies were all over the yard and the entire lodge was up on stilts due to the flood levels during the wet season, where the local Fitzroy River rises about 20 feet before running over its banks and flooding this area.

It was a Friday night and being the only bar within many miles, the place was packed. Once Pam and I got to the bar I couldn’t get the draft beers I wanted because they said they were only serving “mixed drinks” to reduce the rowdiness of the crowd. I said OK, I’ll have a vodka and OJ, to which I was informed that mixed drinks were 3% beer, not hard liquor mixes. Once clarified, I got a Coors-type draft and a wine for Pam.

We had a nice dinner as a tour group, where we both had the Barramundi, or Asian Sea Bass. It’s a tasty fish that we would have frequently on our tour.

The dinner was a nice ending to the first day on the tour.

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