Kimberley trip, July 2011 – Part 4 (Purnululu – Geike Gorge – Tunnel Creek – Windjana Gorge)

Map below is from Outback Spirit Tours website. Here is the tour we took.
Map of Kimberley region

Photo albums start here.

Go to Part 3 of trip.

Drove southwest from Kununurra on the Great Northern Highway towards Halls Creek, with the Deception Ranges to the south. We crossed the Dunham River several times and stopped at the Doon Doon roadhouse for 15 minutes for a comfort stop and to collect our pre-ordered lunches.

At 11:40 we were at our closest to the Argyle diamond mine, and were able to briefly get a Telstra NextG data signal.

We left the Wyndham East Kimberley shire at noon, and entered the Halls Creek shire. Passed the Warman or Turkey Creek roadhouse. At 12:30 we found road construction, guarded by a lollypop man. There was a grader and a scraper, which is a fairly major contribution to road works in this area. Looked like there were a bunch of washouts along the roadside from the bad wet season. That was 110 km east of Halls Creek.

Headed for Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles). The turnoff from the Great Northern Highway takes you through about 55 kilometres of private land at Mabel Downs Station. We stopped a few kilometres in on the rough dirt private road at the Mabel Downs caravan park to have lunch. The owners have been very good to us, allowing use of their facilities.

Two nights in new Bellburn permanent tented safari camp near Purnululu (Bungle Bungles). We stopped at the Ranger Station (and only shop) for refreshments and a comfort stop. Even past the Ranger station, the road is severe, with many watercourses to cross. The only National Parks road equipment we saw was a dozer towing three old tyres to fill the corrugations in the road with dust. That did not appear adequate equipment to maintain a road. It took about 30 minutes to cover 17 km.

We arrived early at the bush camp, which has nice new huts, not yet complete. For example, no shower screens in the ensuite bathrooms. No matter: the showers and toilets worked. The late wet season has really delayed construction all over the north.

We observed the rather large spider lurking in a corner, and hoped it would catch a lot of mozzies.

Dinner was a buffet in the open air dining room (mesh screens) and worked well.

18 July. We were troubled by mosquitos during the pre dawn light. Our resident room spider was not doing its job, despite squatting on the louvre walls.

After breakfast, we departed on the bus for our tour of the Bungles. Meanwhile, there was a rift right across the sky. One distinct cloud layer.

Eric and some of the others flew over the Bungles by helicopter. This was a wonderful 18 minute flight.

Our entire group managed the beautiful walk through the beehive domes, following Piccaninny Creek up to Cathedral Gorge. The cloudy sky made photographs less attractive, but helped keep the temperature much more tolerable in the gorge. The views are astonishing.

Returned to Bellburn camp for lunch, a very nice cold cuts selection, and home made meat pasties as a feature. After lunch, the group was going to Echidna Chasm to the north of Purnululu National Park, but we decided not to go. It involves walking nearly a kilometre over large smooth loose river rocks.

We had a very fancy dinner, celebrating 30 years together for two of the younger members of our group. The Bellburn camp staff had somehow produced balloons for decorations and a chocolate cake as a treat afterward.

19 July. Departed Purnululu National Park early, negotiating the very rough road out to the Great Northern Highway. Eventually everything fell out of the overhead racks. Back on the bitumen, we crossed Spring Creek, and encountered another lollypop man and a construction crew. The final crossing of the Ord River was at 09:45.

Lunch at Halls Creek, and time to inspect the town. We looked at the visitors information centre, which had working loos inside. The fancy musical loos with the push button doors were all marked Out of Order. We donated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, as is customary at many of these volunteer information centres when you use their facilities. Packed and away by 11:55, as we still had a long way to go.

Stopped at the Ngumban Cliffs, which we recalled from previous visits. Interesting view, but the loo there was disgusting, and has been for ages.

We crossed the Fitzroy River on the high-level bridge to the town of Fitzroy Crossing, where we did an Old Town tour and looked at the old crossing (a causeway). River cruise on Fitzroy River in Geikie Gorge National Park. Every time we do this, the river is different, and the lighting is different. This time the water level was much higher than on our previous visits (that big Wet Season again) and the damage to some of the riverside vegetation much more evident.

We spent the night at the Fitzroy River Lodge, a nice place where we have not stayed before. It’s near the high-level bridge and built on tall stilts to survive the annual floods. This year the stilts were not high enough and some rooms were slightly flooded.

20 July. Leaving Fitzroy Crossing, we drove on good bitumen to the turnoff to Tunnel Creek. Then it was really bad dirt through the Oscar Ranges and through Leopard Downs grasslands that support cattle. Lots of creek crossings. We reached the Tunnel Creek around 09:00.

Jean (and several other members of the group) chose to not attempt the challenging entrance to the underground watercourse that extends about 700 metres. Eric reports that it was a great walk, although he had to be very careful not to slip on river pebbles. The water was a bit cold but not too deep. They saw cave bats.

Stopped at the remains of the old police station at Lilliloroola. Interesting how large it was. Then on to magnificent Windjana Gorge for a walk through the sand along the creek to a pool where we ate our lunch. The walls are up to 100 metres above the flood plain. Freshwater crocodiles were sunning themselves by the beach, but they paid very little attention to us.

There was an elaborate stage being set up for a festival being done at the entrance to the gorge walk. Very impressive.

We left at 12:45 p.m. on the much better dirt road (the more usual way in for tourists). Reached the Gibb River Road at 14:25. 211 km more to Broome on the Derby Road. Phone connections near Derby. A loo break from at Wiltare roadhouse. Telstra connections for Broome around 16:30.

Arrived in Broome late afternoon, after about 3600 km. Dropped off at Moonlight Bay Suites along with some other people from the tour. We received more beer coupons and a bottle of their strange wine.

We went to Matso’s brewery for beer and dinner, choosing a very nice beef and porter pie each.

21 July. To Matso’s for breakfast. Eric walked in to Chinatown to buy four more cotton Hawaiian shirts. Then off to the airport for our flight to Brisbane. The open air areas and fountains of the airport were interesting, in a tropical way. For this flight we were in economy. Luckily the economy seats on this 737 were reasonably comfortable.

Our flight from Brisbane to Townsville got us in after 22:00, making it a very long tiring day by the time we got home, but better than overnighting in Brisbane and getting home in the morning.