M and I did washing. John tried to fix the lantern – took it apart, put it back together again – but it still was not working much at all. I wrote some cards to grandchildren, and a letter to son about his possibly joining us up in these parts, at some stage.
We spent some time watching the nearby bowerbird constructing his bower, and practising his dancing near it. John was inspired to try to use the video function on the big camera, to record some of the bird’s antics.
I went for a wander along the lovely little Annie Creek, near our camp, taking photos.
I tried to phone Charnley Station, to book us in there, but could not raise them.
Our rowdy neighbours departed this morning, so their stay had been brief. If they visited Sir John Gorge at all, yesterday, it must have been before we got there, as we hadn’t seen them at all. A quick rush-about stay?
I was so pleased that we had made the effort to come down here. It was quite different to other parts of the Kimberley that we had previously visited. I had wanted to visit here since I first read that a campground had been set up. It was just unfortunate that our 2000 planned trip from here across the now-closed Tableland Track, did not happen. It was now one of those forever-lost opportunities.
Today’s activity centred mainly on Sir John Gorge – further upstream on the Fitzroy River from where we were yesterday.
First, we stopped en route, to walk the Termite Trail, which had been set up in an area where there were a lot of bulbous shaped termite mounds. These were very different in appearance to the ones we were more used to, from places like Litchfield National Park and Pungalina.
A walk track meandered around, past various termite hills where information boards gave all sorts of unexpectedly interesting information about the termites and the roles they play in the savanna grassland ecosystems.
Essentially, termites recycle dead plant matter to provide nutrients for more growth, so enhancing the productivity of the area. They also improve water penetration.
We spent longer there than anticipated, finding it so interesting.
Next stop was at Bluebush Waterhole – another large waterhole on the Fitzroy River – where we wandered about for a while.
There were some large sandbank areas there – the product of deposition by the river at flood times.
Here, the leaning tree effect of Wet Season high water flows was very evident.
Finally, it was on to Sir John Gorge. The character of this was very different to that of Dimond Gorge. The latter just cut straight into the King Leopold Ranges, making the deep gorge. At Sir John, there were great flat slabs of rock beside the river and the start of the Gorge was more gradual.
The Gorge did not seem as deep, at least in the small part of it that we could access. It was also more open and broad, which meant we could walk up into it for some distance.
We had not been prepared to pay $200 for the exclusive use of the only canoe at Sir John Gorge, but decided to do what we could on foot. However, as the Gorge is 23kms long, we didn’t see a great deal of it!
The scrambling around on the rock shelves was enjoyable, and we were able to do some bird spotting. Saw a Sandstone Shrike Thrush – a hard bird to find. There was a Great Egret fishing in the river at one point.
Ate the lunch I’d packed, sitting by the river, enjoying the solitude and scenery. At one stage, there were a couple of other people visiting there, too, but mostly we were alone.
Eventually made our way back to camp. We were enjoying this place so much that we decided to stay an extra day, and walked up to the Reception/bar area to make the booking for that.
The men who set up camp nearby last night, were a very rowdy group. A lot of alcohol consumption seemed to be happening. They also stayed up quite late – much more than us. So they were not the greatest neighbours.
Our camp lantern was playing up. It was a good quality kerosene fuelled one that normally lit our camp brightly. Now, it was sputtering and faltering and the light was dim. I thought it might have been blocked somehow by dust.
After breakfast, at Reception, we paid $60 to hire a canoe to go paddling at Dimond Gorge, on the Fitzroy River. That fee entitled us to use the canoe for as much of the day as we wanted. We were given paddles, mud map and lifejackets. The canoes were permanently in place at the Gorge, for the season.
Followed a rather roundabout route the 23kms to Dimond Gorge. The track had to follow valleys through the rather grand ranges.
On the way we took a short side track to a low rise that was a lookout, giving an elevated outlook onto the surrounding ranges.
At Dimond Gorge, it is about 80kms down the river to the town of Fitzroy Crossing, where we were a few days ago. Not really far at all, but there are no roads through that rugged country.
It was a bit of a hike from the car park, across sand banks and rocks, to where the canoes were stowed, close to the river bank.
M and John did the first paddle in the open, two man canoe, downstream and into the gorge.
While they paddled off into the distance – and back – I wandered about, rock hopping, taking photos, and enjoying the chance to do so in my own time.
Eventually they reappeared and paddled back to the starting point. Then M and I did the same paddle – she was quite happy to repeat the experience.
It was possible to paddle a fair way along the river, which was a series of long waterholes here, interspersed with narrow rapids areas and rock platforms.
The first part of Dimond Gorge, where we canoed, was essentially a long and winding waterhole. The water was calm and the paddling was easy. The solitude was wonderful.
By the time M and I got back to John, another couple of campers had appeared and were organizing a canoe. It felt quite privileged to be able to enjoy such places with so few other tourists around. Amazing the difference 90km of side track makes!
Ate our packed lunches, sitting on rocks at the gorge, then started back the way we’d come.
Detoured up a side track to visit Waterfall Gorge, which could be seen from a distance as a very narrow valley going back into the range.
Parked the vehicles at the end of the rather rough track, then followed a faint track up beside the creek, to a little waterfall that was as far as we could go.
There was some boulder hopping and scrambling involved. M managed to slip on a wet rock beside the creek and finished up with one soaked walk sandal and a wet derriere.
Further back towards the Camp, took another side track that led down to Cadjeput Waterhole, further upstream on the Fitzroy from Dimond Gorge. Cadjeput is a name for the big paperbark trees found along many northern rivers.
This was a serene place, with lovely reflections on the water.
The trees beside the waterhole had a distinct downstream lean, indicating the force and huge volume of water that could come down the river in the Wet season. We were seeing it at a deceptively tranquil time.
After walking around, exploring there, for a little while, returned to camp.
Outback Spirit had a tour group in, staying in the safari tents, further down the creek. Their tour groups are not large ones. As we relaxed back at camp, could hear, and catch brief glimpses of, some of the tour members doing the Riparian Walk on the other side of the creek from us. We decided that, for people who did not have the equipment or confidence to drive themselves in remote parts, that sort of small group, ethical, specialist tour was a good option.
Right on dark, a party of three men arrived in “our” camp clearing and set up their camp a little further along from us – close enough to be heard.
I was not imagining things yesterday – last night was definitely warmer! Maybe being that bit closer to the coast had made a difference?
I was up at 7.30am – just because I was wide awake! John slept a bit later.
Before breakfast, I went and put our washing into one of the machines in the ablution block – yes, they even had washing machines! Then went and hung it out after breakfast.
John drove back up the Glenroy road until he was clear of the property boundary, and found a little side track where he could park out of the way and start the generator, to charge up his torch and the camera batteries. Not being able to get a powered site at Fitzroy Crossing had meant these had not been charged for nearly a week. This took a while and he did not get back until about 2.30pm.
In the meantime, M arrived about midday. She had not noticed John on the way in. She set up her camp in the area we’d “kept” near us.
She reported that it was very hard to get a riverside site camp at the popular Bell Gorge. People were setting up a temporary camp at Silent Grove, 11kms away, where the Ranger Base was, then queuing up at 7am to be there when the Ranger put out tags for spots at Bell Gorge that would be vacated that day. If they managed to snare a tag, they moved there. M had not bothered with that, since she only planned to stay a couple of nights.
M had enjoyed Bell Gorge, finding the falls spectacular, but found the track in a bit rough. Given the crowds, she seemed in two minds as to whether it had been worth the effort. They were the first of the brilliant Kimberley waterfalls that she’d seen, so had made a good impression. I knew there would be others even more brilliant to come……
M and I did the Riparian Walk, while John was still gone. She pronounced this campground much more to her liking than those of her past couple of days.
The workshop here had put out a sign that they were out of gas for gas bottle refills! Given the campfire ban, that could become a bit dire for campers!
However, we could still buy a beer at the bar – for $5.50 a can!
The three of us walked up for the evening talk. Got there a little early, to have an expensive beer, and make sure we had seats. The talk was excellent, given by the head resident scientist at the place – all about Mornington and the work of the AWC here. Very impressive.
I was particularly taken with two aspects of their work: the research on establishing the causes of the decline in Gouldian Finch numbers, hence, how to work to bring back the numbers. And the concept that wild dingo populations were significant in controlling feral introduced pests such as pigs and cats. That tallied with our views after our time on Pungalina in 2005.
Last night did not seem as cold. Maybe it was due to the beanie I wore all night?
We had a real sleep in. The area around us was quiet, and there was no early bird M waiting impatiently to get going on the day’s adventures!
John changed the Truck wheel and put on one of the spares. We had – in line with previous trips away from the van – put the van’s spare wheel, which matched Truck wheels, up on the roof rack, so we had two spares.
I read, sewed, did some Sudoku. We both spent time photographing a little group of crimson finches that were flitting about in the undergrowth near our tent.
Later in the afternoon, we did the Riparian Walk. This was along Annie Creek, basically bird spotting. Mornington had so many different species of birds. AWC was leading efforts to save the Gouldian Finch in the wild, here at Mornington.
Near us, along the creek, were purple crowned fairy wrens. Not far from us, a Great Bower Bird was constructing a bower, and watching him kept us entertained for over an hour.
After tea, we walked the few hundred metres up to the Office/bar area for the advertised 7.30pm free talk, only to find that this had been rescheduled to tomorrow night. I was pleased about that, thinking that M might be here then, for that.
We did Sudokus until about 9.30, then sat for a while, in the dark, looking at the stars, and listening to the night noises of the occasional birds and critters.
Mornington had a no campfire policy. Also no generators. Both quite sensible, really, in environmental terms.
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.