All posts by cerchie1

Esperance

After a couple of days in Albany we took off east towards Esperance. As discussed before, the coast road doesn’t really run along the coast. Rather it runs a few miles inland through farming fields that have been carved out of the brush. One area we crossed had huge fields of yellow that were rapeseed, the plant used to make canola oil.

Esperance is a little shore town of 12,000 folks. The ocean water around the place is crystal clear and many shades of blue. The town was named after a French explorer ship, The Esperance, that took refuge in its harbor in 1792. Parts of town have cliffs with beautiful staircases down to the water below.

While we had planned out our trip with stops and things to see, you never really know what a place is going to be like until you arrive. The biggest surprise of this trip was Cape Le Grand National Park just outside of Esperance. The place was just stunningly beautiful. Pam and I had nearly the whole park to ourselves as we explored beach after beach, each more beautiful than the last one.

We climbed a granite rock mountain named Frenchman Peak because the rock looked like a beret. This photo of our ascent up the granite face is not tilted for effect. It was that steep and had those little white tags showing the way to the top. I imagine it would be impossible to climb if the rock is wet.

The 360-degree view from the top was incredible. You could see all the 80,000 acres that makes up Cape Le Grand National Park and the dirt roads that took you to all the beautiful beaches.

The sand there is pure white and squeaks when you walk on it. It is crushed quartz and is said to be the whitest beach sand in the world. Couple that with the crystal-clear blue water and the place is just drop dead beautiful.

There were several beaches within the park and so we visited them all. For such a beautiful place it was just handful of folks sharing this huge park. I’m sure it is crowded in the summer with campers and beach lovers, but it was awesome in the winter too.

Offshore there were a lot of small rock outcroppings that were home to many different kinds of marine life.

We hiked along the rock outcropping and noticed steel studs driven into the rocks with rings where fishermen could clip in and not worry about being carried away by an unseen large wave. As we turned the corner, we noticed a pod of about 30 dolphins playing in a secluded bay. While only about a quarter mile by sea to get there, we hiked around the rock about 2 miles to get to the bay.

Once there, Pam and I sat on the rock and watched the dolphins for over an hour playing in the bay. There was a lot of jumping, tail slapping and chasing going on – like our own private dolphin show. Eventually they headed back out to deeper water, probably to get some food after all that playtime.

The colors there were just amazing. I always thought some of those spectacular beach pictures you see from time to time had to be photoshopped. Now I know they were shot at Cape Le Grand unmodified.

As the sun was setting, we stumbled onto the last beach of the day. This one lead 20 miles or more back to Esperance along the beach. Some younger kids had a loaded truck with camping gear and were heading out to spend the night. It’s times like these we really, really missed the Roamer.

While the park is known for kangaroos on the beach, we didn’t see any until we pulled out of the last beach parking lot and this guy was heading towards the water.

What a gorgeous place. Cape Le Grand National Park should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Albany

One of the things we found out about Western Australia is that there are no “coastal” roads. There are roads that look close to the coast but are several miles from the ocean. There is no Pacific Coast Highway equivalent where you are provided gorgeous views of the ocean as you drive along the coast. I guess it’s because there are not enough people to warrant such a road, given that an inland road is more practical.

Therefore, we looked for other things to see and do as we traveled along the “coast”. One such stop was the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk. Who wouldn’t stop there? The walk was on a series of suspension bridges that pass through a Red Tingle forest. The red tingles are the largest of the eucalyptus family and can grow up to 180 feet tall.

The walkway was about halfway up the trees. Looking down you realize how tall these trees really are, dwarfing the other normal sized trees.

They have truck bases like redwoods that are 80 feet in circumference and prohibit growth near them to better survive fires. They live to about 400 years old and have a lot of character.

We made it to our next Airbnb in the town of Albany. Albany is the oldest city in Western Australia, being settled in 1826. It’s the second largest city in WA with a population of only 29,000, behind Perth with its population of 2.1 million. After some time in Western Australia you realize that once you get outside of Perth you effectively have the country to yourself, which is kind of nice.

The city has a beautiful natural harbor, which is why it was settled first. It was the commercial shipping harbor between Europe and Western Australia for many years, causing some friction with Perth, which was the capital. It remained the primary sea hub for WA until the mouth of the Swan River was dredged in 1897 to create a commercial harbor at Fremantle, the port city of Perth.
We had a nice dinner at a fish and chips place near the beach, a short walk from our place. Most of the coastal cities have Cook Pine trees growing along the ocean. I imagine many of these were planted years ago with the expectation of having readily available ship’s masts to supply the many tall sailing ships that used to travel the seas.

Albany has a walking path along the ocean crest that Pam and I enjoyed. We stopped at one lookout but there was a guy with a sign that said, “ongoing research – do not disturb”. He turned and saw us and said don’t worry about the sign he was just finishing up. He was gathering observational data on a pod of Southern Right whales that were frolicking in the bay below us. He even let us use his scope to get a better look. He was from the University of Western Australia. When we told him about our travels and the dolphin that escorted us with her calf up in Monkey Mia, approximately 1000 miles away he knew the name of the dolphin and her calf.

It was encouraging to hear that humpback whales have come back from very low numbers to now over 40,000 in the area. Right whales don’t have offspring as often as humpbacks so while they too are rebounding in numbers it’s taking longer. He was taking data on the impact of the shipping traffic on the Right whale breeding habits. From what we saw through the scope it appears ship traffic was not affecting them – lol.

A historical plaque on the boardwalk talked about Darwin’s stay in Albany after his famous trip to the Galapagos Islands on the HMS Beagle. He was quoted as saying, “I leave your shores without sorrow or regret. We staid there eight days and I do not remember since leaving England having passed a more dull, uninterested time”. I guess Darwin was evolving socially during this period – lol.

On the hill overlooking Albany and King George Sound sits the Desert Mounted Corps memorial, a replica of the statue erected in the Suez to commemorate the Australian and New Zealand forces during WWI and their battles in the Middle East.

There are more WWI and WWII memorials on the hill that were quite interesting. Albany was chosen for the site because the convoy of ships that deployed to the wars assembled and departed from King George Sound.

Below is a memorial of the letters written home from soldiers. The “My Dearest Love” was cut through the plate so that the sun would shine through.

It was a nice stay in Albany, a place rich in history, but we had one more destination to the east before we would turn back to Perth.

Gnarabup

We began the third leg of our Western Australia adventure back in Perth. As a recap of our trip to date, we initially flew into Perth, rented a 4-wheel drive truck and travelled north up the west coast of Australia as far up as Shark’s Bay before turning around and exploring new places on our way back to Perth for the first leg. Then we flew to Broome, met up with Pam’s Aunt and cousins and headed into the outback on a commercial tour for the second leg.

For the third leg we rented a car because the roads are mostly paved and headed south along the western coast to see some more of this beautiful country. Just over 100 miles south from Perth is the Margaret River area, which is known worldwide for its surfing and wine. Pam and I booked into a nice Airbnb in the beach town of Gnarabup as a base to explore this region.

There are two lighthouses separated by roughly 50 miles that warn ships of the Margaret River peninsula that juts out into the Indian Ocean. To the north is the Cape Naturalist Lighthouse which we visited and hiked around to stretch our legs on our way to Gnarabup.

The Indian Ocean beaches are beautiful along the coast. World class surfing events are held in Gnarabup every year and given the size of the waves we saw I can see why surfers like this area.

We had a nice walk on the beach at sunset with the sun trying to break through the clouds to throw some last rays of sunlight on the ocean.

We had a chuckle at the warning signs posted there. I’m not sure there were enough reasons given to not go in the water. At least there are no saltwater crocs this far south – lol.

Our place had a nice little garden with a couple bird bath fountains and a feeder; Pam’s kind of place. We grabbed a couple of bottles of the local wine and enjoyed the avian visitors that arrived while we rested on the porch.

This is an Australian Ringneck. He couldn’t fit into the bird feeder but tried digging a meal out the side. It’s kind of like he looked at us asking if we could give him a hand.

This little guy, a Red-eared Firetail, did fit inside the feeder and sat there content while munching away. The phrase “eating like a bird” is somewhat of a misnomer since most birds eat nearly their weight in food every day.

This colorful guy, a Common Bronzewing, was happy picking up whatever fell out of the feeder.

A New Holland Honeyeater enjoyed a nice bath in the fountain next to the feeder.

The next day we headed down the coast. Talking with some folks in the outback about our plans they recommended that we drive down Caves Road, which we did. The small road winds down the coast, offering up some spectacular views when the vegetation opened on the ocean side of the road.

The geology of the area is limestone with a lot of caves to explore down the coast. We stopped at Jewel Cave for a tour. The path through the cave was about a mile long, a few hundred feet below the ground and contained some amazing cave structures.

The staircase down was impressive how it snaked through the rock formations. Each piece of the stairway is cut to fit above ground and carried down to install to keep debris to a minimum.

We stopped at the Burton vineyard, which was also the home of the Cheeky Monkey Brewing Co. The name gave us high hopes, but the flight of beers we tried were unfortunately marginal. We did purchase some tasty Shiraz liqueur (brandy) that ended up being the only bottle of alcohol that survived the duration of the trip unopened and made it back home. All the other lesser wines we purchased while in the region were happy hour sacrifices – lol.

The southern tip of the region’s limestone outcropping was the home of the majestic Leeuwin Lighthouse.

This marks the split between the Indian and Southern Oceans. It’s been awhile since I had a geography class and thought, “there’s a Southern Ocean”?

As part of a local competition, artists were asked to create something with a cow. This was the resulting “pirate cow” that was at the lighthouse keeping an eye on the oceans. I waited to hear it say “Arrrgh”, but it never udder-ed a sound. I guess it wasn’t moo-tivated to talk. I think it was upset at the tourists, but I’m not sure what its beef was. Okay, I’ll stop there.

The coastline around the place was rugged while the winter waves rolled in.

On the way back to our place we stopped at an old growth eucalyptus forest, where the trees were well over 100 feet tall. It was so peaceful. It had started to rain, and we picked up a young kid with a backpack on the deserted road just prior to this stop. He was a Polish kid in Australia on a work visa and just traveling around. He was heading north to catch a flight back to Poland to study engineering. He probably thought we were a little strange to stop and take pictures of the trees.

We headed back to the beach at the end of the day to enjoy the beauty of the place.

The next day we rounded the southwestern tip of Australia and headed east along the coastline.

Broome

The next day we traveled back to Broome, our starting point for this adventure nine days before. While the area is arid it does provide a constantly changing view in vegetation and in the color of the dirt.

Some sections of the road are better with respect to wash-boarding, or corrugation as it’s known to Aussies.

Eucalyptus trees and grasslands are typical for this cattle-dominated area.

On the way back we stopped at the Mowanjum Cultural Centre and learned much about the Aboriginal people that live in the region today, and have been there for 1,000s of years.

Broome was a nice change from the Gibb River Road with the ocean that was visible from nearly anywhere from the peninsula of a town.

That night we went to the local movie theater, and just happened to catch the first showing of the new Lion King movie.

The movie theater has been open for over a century and is an outdoor theater. We watched the movie under the stars, and along the approach path for the late evening flights into Broome from around Australia.

The next day we found the local farmer’s market and shopped for some souvenirs to take home.

We said goodbye to Pam’s Aunt Melinda and cousins Riley and Tasman later that day at the airport. They were heading back to Canberra while Pam and I took off back to Perth to begin the third part of our Western Australia trip.

Bell Gorge

The next day we headed to Bell Gorge. Bell Creek runs through the gorge and it was a nice hike down to the water.

The gorge had a nice stair-step waterfall that dropped down to a big pool below.

We hiked on down into the gorge and jumped in for swim.

Riley and I swam downstream to check out the cascading pools that headed down further into the gorge. Several folks followed us down. I noticed on our return a few crocs were sunning themselves and the rocks along the water’s edge. Luckily, the water was a little too cold for them to be active, so they stayed where they were sucking up the heat of the sun.

We hiked out of the gorge area while spotting more birds and admiring the geology of the area.

Back at the Bell Gorge Wilderness Lodge, the communal seating area was a great place to relax and have a drink before another great meal that included a lamb filet that was the best I’ve ever tasted.

The tents for the guests were spread out into the grassland.

Across the lawn we spotted another kangaroo grazing on the grass and watching us.

The last night of our stay in the outback, we had a birthday celebration for one of our fellow travelers. Riley was nice enough to finish off all the cake and ice cream so it didn’t go to waste – lol.

Home Valley Station

While El Questro Station is big at 700,000 acres, Home Valley Station is huge, covering 3.5 million acres, or 5 times the size of El Questro. Home Valley Station’s first pastoral lease was in 1957, and similar to El Questro, they added tourism to the station in 2006 to augment the always struggling ranching business.

This huge station’s pastoral lease is currently owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation, a holding company for the local Aboriginal people. The dining area was the old maintenance shed that was converted to its new use with a kitchen, bar and seating.

I thought the use of one of the old windmills as a wall was very interesting.

The building’s low perimeter walls were built from stone with 55-gallon drums as structural support bases marking the entrances. Cowboy saddles were thrown on top of one of the walls.

In areas with regular water, like sprinklers for the grass, the boab trees had leaves. This boab tree was split open in the back but was still thriving with just the outer ring of the tree alive.

We left Home Valley Station and stopped at Ellenbrae Station for a mid-morning scone with whipped cream and jam. While the station is also over 1 million acres of ranch land, it’s known for their delicious scones along the Gibb River Road. The family serves up about 20,000 scones during the tourist season. We all made short work of eating them up, including Riley and Tasman in the picture below.

Our next stop was the Manning Gorge for a nice swim. The parking lot had a few other folks that were travelling in the outback along the Gibb River Road. This vehicle was typical of those on the road, a vehicle fully loaded with a roof rack, towing a trailer with a boat and bikes. Australians know how to pack for the outback.

Riley and I took a dip in the Yallamia Pool in the gorge. It had a boat with a tow rope if you wanted to get to the other side dry, a rope swing, plenty of rocks to climb on and a few fresh water crocs to keep you alert.

Our next stop was a short hike into Galvans Gorge.

The boab trees around the top of the gorge were interesting, and due to the lack of water up there, leafless.

The gorge was protected by a Wandjina, who were the ones in Aboriginal stories that created humans. Their likeness is painted onto many special places in the outback.

On our hike out from the gorge we spotted these two kangaroos making their way up the other side of the gorge.

We arrived at our next camping spot, the Bell Gorge Wilderness Lodge. This was the view looking out from our tent.

The inside of the tent was nice and cozy with two beds and a full bathroom.

We headed down for happy hour and another fantastic dinner in the wilderness.

El Questro

El Questro Station, where station is the Australian name for a ranch, is roughly 700,000 acres in size. The station is approximately 48 miles north-to-south, by 36 miles east-to-west. The stations in the Kimberley region are on leased “Crown Land”, which used to be held by the English Monarchy, but it’s now public land held by Western Australia. The initial lease for El Questro was in 1958. Before that date it was just outback wilderness. The lease changed hands many times over the years because you must meet lease payments and land improvement criteria to maintain the lease, which is tough to do in this remote area. However, in 1991 the lease holders expanded from just cattle to tourism due to the natural beauty of the area. El Questro still maintains nearly 6,000 head of cattle, but the tourism business model has rippled across many of the Kimberley region stations to generate additional revenue and to show land improvements in order to maintain the leases.

El Questro offers a range of camping options, from a basic campsite, to our tent wilderness camp and even a resort up on a mountain top.

The wilderness camp at Emma Gorge was very nice and the common areas for meals and just hanging out were open-air and very comfortable. The meals we had there were buffet-style with a lot of really good food. A couple of tour groups like ours were there, but the dining hall was also filled with folks who were traveling alone, or as a family, and made their own reservations.

We hiked up Emma Gorge over large boulders and crossed the small stream several times. It was slow going for most of the folks and it was good we left near dawn, so we had the trail to ourselves.

The gorge ends at a nice swimming hole at the base of a 65-foot waterfall.

The water was refreshing, and Riley and I found the one warm spot near the outlet of the thermal spring under the rock overhang.

When we got back to camp, we jumped into our tour bus and were off again. This time I jumped in the front with Ray, our tour guide / driver. The bus had air ride seats in the front making the ride over any road condition noticeably smoother than the ride in the back.

Even though it was the dry season there were still some rivers and creeks that had water and needed to be crossed. It was amazing that every Toyota land cruiser there had the engine snorkel kit installed. It must be for additional air inlet filtration of dust because the water in the region is either like this in the dry season, which doesn’t require a snorkel, or its 20 feet deep in the wet season, in which case a snorkel won’t matter.

Our next stop was at a water reservoir while we waited for our appointed lunch time.

While the water looks harmless enough, nearly all water in this region is home to crocs.

At lunch this blue-winged kookaburra came in looking for some free food.

After lunch we headed to Zebedee Springs, a thermal stream that pools among the rocks and palms for a great place to relax.

The palm-treed oasis was a striking change to the surrounding vegetation.

We watched the sunset glow its last light onto the Cockburn mountain range in the east.

To the west, the sunset was beautiful.

That night we stayed at Home Valley Station.

Kununurra

Using the Australian pronunciation rule where nearly every vowel is replaced with the letter A, our next stop, the town of Kununurra, was pronounced (ka-na-NAR-a). This town of 5,000 folks was created in 1961 to support the construction of the Ord River Dam, which was finished in 1972. The Ord River Dam was constructed as part of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme to capture the wet season water runoff down the Ord River and to create a large farming area in this mostly arid region. The dam created Argyle Lake, the 2nd largest man-made lake in Australia, which has a surface area of 271 square miles and holds 18 times the volume of water that is in Sydney harbor. Due to the amount of rain that falls in the wet season it only took 3 years to fill the lake.

Because the dam now provides a flood control system for the Ord River it no longer goes dry in the dry season like all the other rivers in the Kimberley region and has become a huge sanctuary for both plants and animals.

The consistent flow and height of the river have allowed grasses and lily pads to grow in areas that would flash flood prior to the dam. The grasses help to stabilize the shoreline. Here a comb-crested jacana walks across the lily pads in search of food, where they will spend their entire life on the lily pad surface.

Here was another Australian darter drying its feathers after hunting for fish under water.

Cockatoos roosted in large groups in the trees along the banks.

In the grass along the bank a purple swamphen was building a new nesting area.

We also saw a large colony of flying fox bats that are over a foot tall and have a 5-foot wingspan hanging from the trees. Our guide thought this tree may be their nursery. At dusk the young adults fly out to eat, leaving the newly born bats with the older bats. Just prior to sunrise the young adults return to let the older bats fly out to eat. The younger bats will not eat anything within 2 miles of the nursery so that the older bats do not have to fly as far for their food.

Of course, there were crocodiles in the river.

Our guide gave a talk on the Ord River Irrigation Scheme; its past, present and hopeful future. A lot of the water is used for farming irrigation in the fields that are adjacent to the river. The hope is that one day the area will become the breadbasket for Australia. They are still experimenting with the best crops for the area. Sandalwood is currently the largest crop, but recent successful harvests of wheat and cotton may change that going into the future. Chinese investments are helping with some of the future expansion plans.

This was our tour boat, tucked into the bank while we had lunch along the river.

The distance of our tour, from Kununurra to the dam, was over 45 miles. The three engines on the back of our tour boat allowed us to get between points of interest rather quickly.

Other folks were also on the river. These two were part of a multi-day canoe camping trek along the river. Given the number of crocs we saw along the banks, you would need to choose your camp spots wisely.

The 325-foot tall dam itself was a rock wall dam of locally quarried stone. The sign sums it up, “Faith in a pile of stones”.

This is from the top of the dam looking down onto the Ord River. You can see our tour boat off in the distance heading back to Kununurra.

Looking the other direction over the dam, you see a small section of the 271 square miles that make up Lake Argyle.

The lake submerged the majority of the Durack family station, or ranch. We visited the Argyle Homestead Museum, a look back at the Durack family and the part that they played in the early days of the Kimberley region.

The original Durack homestead was built in 1895. It was constructed of limestone blocks with crushed termite mounds as mortar. The homestead was deconstructed at its original site, now deep under Lake Argyle, and re-assembled at its new location for current and future generations to see.

The grounds around the house were very colorful with local flowers in bloom. There was a lone dingo in the brush around the homestead, possibly waiting for a wandering tourist – lol.

A western bowerbird nest was in the brush along the perimeter of the homestead. The male bowerbirds create these nests to attract a mate, using colorful stones to entice the females.

We then made our way to another wilderness camp named Emma Gorge at El Questro.

Bungle Bungle

The next day of our tour we travelled to Danggu Geikie Gorge National Park for a boat tour of the Geikie Gorge. Our boat guide was Aboriginal and provided a lot of information about the Aboriginal culture during the tour. There were similarities between many Aboriginal customs and the Native Americans. As examples, instead of Native American tribes, Aboriginals were differentiated based on language groups. Instead of rules against marrying into the same clan, Aboriginals were not allowed to marry into the same “skin color”, of which there are four. It’s a very family-based society with a responsibility of care for even distant relatives.

The gorge was very beautiful. The sandstone near the current water level was erosion-etched with a thousand cracks and holes.

In the sunlight is was very clear to see the “wet” season level of the Fitzroy River due to the rock color. It was hard to imagine the water level changing so drastically in a seemingly arid area.

A croc was basking on the rocks as we passed. Like the seals with their fins in the air, Crocs bask in the sun with their mouths open to regulate their body temperature to around 77 degrees. This time of year the water and, for most of the day, the air were both colder than 77 degrees so the crocs were not very active – luckily for us.

The Fitzroy, the Ord and several of the other larger rivers in the area segregate the Kimberley region into isolated islands during the wet season. Travel across the region is only accomplished by small planes hopping between dirt strips. The Kimberley communities become self-contained during the wet season, where outside travel is only used for medical emergencies.

There were flood level markers on the roof structure of the visitor pavilion, which was located way above the riverbank. The apex of the roof had markers indicating at least 3 years in the last few decades when the entire pavilion was submerged by as much as 6 feet of water.

We then made our way to Purnululu National Park, where we stayed the next two nights at the Bungle Bungle Wilderness Lodge in tents like our stay on Rottnest Island. The lodge had a central building that housed the open-air living room, dining hall and bar. Dinner was a three-course set menu dining experience prepared by some amazing chefs. Breakfast was a typical British breakfast buffet: eggs, sausage, ham, tomatoes and mushrooms, as well as cereal, yogurt and fruit. The staff running these places out in the middle of nowhere were great.

Most trees in the region are some kind of eucalyptus. The ghost gum eucalyptus tree is known for its smooth, white bark that gives it its ghost appearance under a full moon.

The next day we took off to the explore the National Park. The roads in this area of the country were dirt and well maintained. I’m sure they require a lot of work following the wet season to make them passable again.

We passed Elephant Rock on our way to our first hike.

The Bungles are a unique banded rock formation.

We hiked up Piccaninny Creek to an overlook. You can get a better idea of the color and composition of the banded rock that makes up this mountain range.

The hike took use by several termite mounds, this one being about 10 feet tall. Ray, our guide, had several books on our tour bus about the flora and fauna in the Kimberley. One was on termites that was surprisingly interesting. These termites were cathedral termites named due to their mound structure. Another species in the Kimberley were the magnetic termites, where their gravestone shaped mounds are aligned within 10 degrees of the north-south compass direction.

This raven provided a striking contrast against the rocks.

We then hiked up into a beautiful box canyon.

At the end of the canyon was the Cathedral. The place was so majestic that a camera could not capture it all. This is a shot from the path looking into the Cathedral.

This is a shot from the far end of the Cathedral, under the overhang, looking back to the path. The place has wonderful acoustics and one visitor broke into an acapella version of Amazing Grace that sounded really nice.

Here’s Riley and Tasman relaxing on one of the ledges in the Cathedral.

They offered helicopter rides over the Bungles in piston powered R44 helicopters. Riley took a ride and snapped pictures for the rest of us to see. The helicopter outfit had 3 R44s there and all were filled with passengers. Riley’s pilot was 19 but had been flying Robinson’s for several years already on the ranches, or stations as they are known in the region. The stations can cover a million acres and with no or very few roads helicopters are the current technology used keep an eye on the herds. As technology changes, cowboys and horses gave way to helicopters to cover more ground quickly, which will be replaced by drones at some point in the future. Maybe a cattle prod option on a drone would be a good market….

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset as the last light hit the mountain range with the full moon rising. This was followed by another delicious meal at the Wilderness Lodge.

Pam and I both wished we could have the Roamer in the Kimberley, or even all of Australia for an extended stay. I admit I was getting a little tired of packing and unpacking my stuff nearly every day. With the Roamer, everything is packed and at our fingertips.

Also, Pam likes my cooking, and if we ate meals liked those chefs cooked everyday while we travelled I would way 1000 pounds! But for a few days, it was nice.

Before leaving Purnululu National Park we visited the Echidna Chasm on the north side of the park. The rock of the chasm oasis was a conglomerate or river rocks, and not the usual sandstone.

We hiked up the river bed into the chasm.

The slot canyon, or chasm, was huge with walls that were over 100 feet tall ending in a box canyon where the stream entered the slot.

The terrain outside the canyon looked very familiar. We could have easily been somewhere in the southwest US for this same view. However, this area is one that is covered in water during the wet season.

We continued north to the town of Kununurra for the night.

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.