THURSDAY 12 JULY FITZROY CROSSING TO MORNINGTON WILDERNESS CAMP 428kms
The time at Fitzroy Crossing did not improve any.
Took my morning mug of coffee, intending to sit in my camp chair with it and watch the departing campers. As I sat down, the seam on the canvas seat split and I dropped right down into the metal framework of the chair. It hurt like hell and I was quite bruised. And I spilt my coffee!
The chair was 14 years old, and had been much used and exposed to the elements over its lifetime, so I probably should not have been too surprised. Better me than John – an accident like that could really cause him some hip damage.
It was 10am before we departed camp. John had to go and refill the spare fuel jerry can, which meant a big repack of back of Truck.
From Fitzroy Crossing, drove 43kms west on the highway, then took the Fairfield-Leopold Downs Road – unsealed – for 124kms, to link us through to the Gibb River Road. This road was quite corrugated and rocky in parts and was fairly slow going.
We did not stop at either of the National Parks along this road – Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge. John and I had camped at Windjana Gorge in ’93 and explored both. M had visited them on her previous only trip to these parts – a short tour from Broome, undertaken on a tour package with her mother, a few years back.
Today’s was a very scenic drive. This western end of the Kimberley is all former Devonian Reef ranges – quite rugged.
After we turned onto the Gibb River Road and headed east, these ranges were in front of us. It didn’t take long before we passed through the first of several gaps in the ranges – Yammera Gap, with its big rock formation on one side, very aptly named Queen Victoria’s Head.
A couple of the steeper sections through the ranges, like Inglis Gap, were sealed. There were some good outlooks from some of these, over the wild country ahead.
Through this section, there were several pleasant creeks and we noticed people setting up camps by some of these – even where they were clearly signed “No Camping”.
There was regular traffic along the Gibb. Too much of it was travelling too fast. 4WD’s towing camper trailers seemed to be the worst – even more so than the dreaded overseas drivers of hired 4WD campers. They pass oncoming traffic at great speed, with no thought about the stones and rocks they throw up at others.
At one point, we had slowed right down to go through a small creek ford in a little gully. A 4WD with trailer came up behind and sailed past us – didn’t slow down at all for the creek. I swear his camper trailer got airborne! These are the travellers who later complain about poor quality roads wrecking their vehicles and tyres – we have seen and heard it all before.
It seems to be an unfortunate fact that, these days, any area/road that is designated “remote” ” an adventure” ” challenging” brings out the most moronic of the idiot drivers – a scary number of them. I don’t give a damn if they spoil their own rigs, and holiday plans, but object mightily when their stupidity affects the sensible minority.
Some 95kms along the Gibb, we parted company with M for a couple of days. She took the side road to Silent Grove and Bell Gorge and planned to catch up with us later, at Mornington. John and I had previously camped at Bell Gorge and it was now one of several places along the Gibb that was very popular, and hence often crowded.
Only a few kms after the Bell Gorge turn off, was the Imintji Store. This had not been here the last time we were at this end of the Gibb, and was linked to the nearby little community of the same name.
We’ already done 300kms since filling last at Fitzroy Crossing, so refuelled here – $1.85cpl. Bought an icy pole for John and a cold drink for me. Chatted a bit with the very nice lady behind the counter – she and her husband had been contracted to run the place for this season, on behalf of the community.
Another 25kms brought us to the turnoff we wanted, to the south east. A hundred metres or so down this road (which also went to Mt House Station), was a roofed shelter, housing a two way radio. All prospective visitors had to use this to call the Wilderness Camp, some 90kms distant, to see if there was a vacancy in the campground . This was very sensible of them – it was a long way to go, only to find one was turned away! There was no other legal camping until back on the Gibb. As they strictly limited the number of campers at any one time, to 25 vehicles/50 campers, there was a very real chance of the campground being full.
We were fine, there was room, and we proceeded southwards, on a route that was new to us.
The track was quite reasonable. It took us an hour and a half to do the 90kms. The scenery was really wonderful, particularly when we were running alongside a group of flat topped, mesa like peaks.
There were a number of dry creek channels to be crossed, and occasional ones with a little water in. For the most part, these had been smoothed out by the road grader.
Passed the turnoff to Mt House Station – a cattle operation that did not welcome visitors.
Navigating from a map with a scale of 10km to the cm definitely involved a degree of guess work, given the myriad of station tracks, not marked on the map. I thought I’d identified the turn offs to Moll Gorge and then the Tablelands Track. The latter, in particular, gave me some angst because, if I was wrong, we could have veered right when we should have gone left!
So, I was quite relieved, shortly after, to recognize the site of the old Glenroy Meatworks. We were still on track. This had been the focal point of the Air Beef Scheme, set up after WW2. Cattle from quite a wide radius were brought into the abattoirs/meatworks at Glenroy Station, slaughtered, and the carcasses flown, soon after, to Wyndham, where they were frozen for shipping onwards. So there had been a large airstrip at Glenroy. The making of the Gibb River Road, in the mid-60’s, provided the alternative to cattlemen, of road transport of stock to markets, and so the Air Beef Scheme closed down.
For the final few kms, were winding back and forth across stream tributaries of the Adcock River, an upper tributary of the Fitzroy River. Annie Creek, beside which Mornington Wilderness Camp is located, is one such tributary.
Drove through the campground area and found the main building a bit further on. There, we booked in for five nights. Sites were $30 a night – no power, of course. Had to pay a $20 entry fee to the property, too.
There were really good, thick, woollen beanies for sale, with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy monogram on. I bought one – $20 – thinking it might help keep my head warm at night, when trying to sleep.
It hadn’t been hard to spend $190 here, in just a few minutes!
We then had to drive back to the camping area, which was strung out along the creek, and pick out our own site from amongst the empty ones. Sites were mostly just clearings in the bush, some of them off an access track that ran parallel to the road in. Probably about half the sites were occupied – the very best of the secluded, shadiest ones, at the northern end, were taken, but we found a good place to set up in the more southern section.
The Wilderness Camp was within the Mornington Sanctuary – a former pastoral lease owned since 2001 by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. This private conservation group was doing great work on a variety of environmentally significant properties across Australia, underpinning their conservation efforts with really thorough scientific research.
I didn’t mind paying these sorts of fees when any profits went to support the work of such a group.
When we had been travelling in the Kimberley in 2000, I had planned for us to stay at Mornington, where the then station owner had set up a campground, like others that were springing up across the region, in response to growing traveller numbers. The remoteness of the place – being off the usual traveller route – had appealed to me. From there, we were going to try to drive the Tableland Track, back eastwards, to the Bungles area. But the fates intervened and that part of the planned Gibb River Road trek didn’t happen. When I read, the following year, that AWC had bought Mornington, I was sure the chance to explore that area was gone. But, the organization decided to keep a camp operation going – and here we were.
The campground amenities were very good, with flush toilets and warm showers.
There was also some safari tent accommodation in a different section further along the creek. There is only one commercial tour group allowed to access the property – Outback Spirit, and their tours use the safari tents. I believe that policy reflects a positive view about the environmental credentials of Outback Spirit. When we had worked at Adels Grove, that company had brought tour groups through; I always found them the best groups to deal with.
So, with limited numbers, the place never feels over run by people – unlike some places along the Gibb.
It was getting dark by the time we were fully set up. John found a small piece of board in Truck, that he normally used for packing between things. He was able to place that across the framework on my broken camp chair. With the addition of an old cushion – also used for packing – this would do me for the time being. The actual framework of the seat was quite sound, it was just the canvas seat that had weakened. We inspected John’s chair but the canvas showed no signs of tearing. However, he will be very careful when sitting down, to lower himself very gradually. I also had the option of using a little folding stool that occasionally saw use when John was fishing.
John also found that one of the front tyres was going flat – a slow leak.
We’d parked Truck in a way that would ensure there was still room for M’s rig, in case any other campers decided to set up in our little clearing.
It felt rather strange not to have M around camp.