AS I explained in last month’s article, we decided to travel the Great Northern Highway to see the Bungle Bungles and Wolfe Creek Crater off the Tanami Rd.
However, we really wanted to do the rest of the Gibb River Rd on the western side. Northwest of Fitzroy Crossing is the dirt Fairfield-Leopold Downs Rd that links back up to the sealed road. It winds up through an ancient reef, which resembles black basalt rock and gives the landscape some character.
The famous Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge are located on this road before it runs into a T-intersection to Gibb River Rd. Tunnel Creek was definitely one of the highlights of the area for our family. Torches are required to walk through Tunnel Creek so you can find your way along the 750m of dark tunnel snaking along the creek’s edge. In the water were small freshwater crocodiles, tarpon and eel-tailed catfish, visible by torchlight in the blackness.
Little tunnels branched off here and there, which the kids loved to climb into and explore. About halfway through was a section where the ceiling had collapsed and the light filtered in. The background colours, sand and crystal-clear creek water were enchanting. Then it was back into the darkness for one or two creek crossings where the ice-cold water was knee-deep before it opened up to the other side of the ridge.
The creek becomes quite wide, lined with native ironbark, gums and a flying fox colony. The tunnel was truly spectacular and was where some rebel indigenous outlaws managed to hide from the law in colonial times. They also had skirmishes nearby with the local troopers until the troopers discovered the caves and chased the rebels back inside, where they were shot and killed.
They were harsh times and unfortunately indigenous locals got the rough end of the stick. You can picture it all unfolding when you are there. With the cave entrances obstructed by boulders and big fig trees shading them, they would have been hard to spot. The cave is dark and not knowing it goes all the way through would have been disorientating. It may have been difficult exploring the tunnel back in the early days with only a kerosene lamp.
The history of the area and the rebels is detailed on an information board in the main carpark of the Tunnel Creek National Park. It adds to the experience and gives the place a different feel.
Up the road from Tunnel Creek is Windjana Gorge, a national park camping ground where we stayed for a night or two. An amazing thing about Windjana Gorge is in the dry season, small pools of water with a high population of freshwater crocodiles lie in the deeper parts of the gorge. About 300 freshwater crocs live in these little pools. They lie a foot apart from one another and sun themselves around the pool. They are quite relaxed around people and you can walk by them without disturbing them, which makes for great photos.
The kids thought this was amazing, though they didn’t want to swim when I asked them. The gorge is quite long, with spectacular big red cliffs on both sides and a sandy bottom between. This can make it a challenging walk but definitely eye catching. If you can time it with the full moon and head to the waterhole at night, millions of micro bats come out and swoop down to the water to quench their thirst. All the freshies snap away at them to get a feed. Pretty amazing stuff.
From here we headed east along Gibb River where we set up camp at Silent Grove, located 10km from Bell Gorge. Silent Grove is a little oasis nestled in a corner of the gorge. The best thing about Silent Grove is its amazing water. A little artesian spring runs all year round, which allows the campground to have showers and toilets. Great to wash the red dirt out of the cracks.
Bell Gorge is a 15-minute drive from here and is one of my favourite spots on the western side of the Gibb. It has a magnificent swimming hole, crystal-clear water and nice little undercuts to lie your towel out in the shade, relax and read a book between swims.
We chose to leave the caravan at Silent Grove and head further east for a day trip to Manning Gorge at Mount Barnett Station. You’ll find a beautiful campground at Manning Gorge too, again with showers and toilets. The walk from the campground to Manning Gorge is an adventure on its own. As soon as you walk out of the day-use area you are confronted with a creek.
We chose to walk around and rock hop to keep our feet dry on the way to the gorge because it is quite a long way. Once the creek is navigated, you come upon a ridge to hike. It is open with mainly black rock around you, so you can imagine the heat coming off the ground on a hot day. You undulate over a few rises and falls until coming to the southern side of the gorge and then do a bit of rock scaling as you descend into it.
From here it is 500m to the magnificent Manning Gorge Falls, which weren’t running at the time we were there, though we found a beautiful deep pool filled with sooty grunter. A few tour groups were swimming around enjoying the scenery. There was practically no shade at the gorge itself, so during hot times of the year it’s probably best to leave early in the morning to experience it. Make sure you take plenty of water because the heat radiating off the ground was extraordinary.
The creek we walked around on the way in provided a welcome cool-down dip on the walk back to the car. A plastic 44-gallon drum cut in half and tethered to a pully system from one side of the creek to the other transports all your gear across to the other side without getting wet. Very cool, and the kids thought this was great, adding to the adventure of Manning Gorge and making it quite unique.
We drove back from Manning Gorge to Silent Grove and to ‘Kermit’, our van, via Mount Barnett Roadhouse for a well-deserved ice cream. It was an easy day trip from Silent Grove to Manning Gorge and saved a few hundred kilometres of towing the van on corrugated roads. To go into Manning Gorge you need to pay a fee at the Mount Barnett Roadhouse.
National park fees also apply to stay at Silent Grove and access Bell Gorge. The west Kimberley region really is beautiful. At the time of our trip there hadn’t been a decent wet season for a few years, hence why Manning Gorge wasn’t running and why we didn’t visit Mitchell Plateau.
But hey, what a great excuse to come back and check out Mitchell Plateau in all its glory and Kalumburu for great fishing. From here we headed west and finished the Gibb River Rd to pull up stumps at Derby and give Kermit and ‘Kenny’ the LandCruiser, a much-needed clean because we had red dirt everywhere!
We truly love the Kimberley, both eastern and western regions including the Gibb River. It was an amazing experience travelling to one of the very last frontiers in Australia. Sharing it with my wife and kids and making memories we will never forget was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m sure we will talk about this trip when our kids have kids of their own.
Now to conquer the northwest!
Until next month…