This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2007 Travels June 27

WEDNESDAY 27 JUNE     KUNUNURRA

We had been here for a week now. Booking in for a couple of weeks had not been so silly, after all. No word yet on when the tracks would reopen.

We had been rationing out things to do, around the area, to spread them over the time we had to be here.

It was definitely fining up. This was the second day without rain and the sky seemed much  lighter. Blue skies by the end of the day!

A day trip to Wyndham today. Drove directly there on the highway – 105kms from Kununurra.

Wyndham is more essentially “Kimberley” than Kununurra, in my view. It is certainly older and thus reflects more of the history of the region. Located on the banks of Cambridge Gulf, it began in the mid 1880’s as the nearest port to the new gold fields around Halls Creek, quickly becoming somewhat of a boom town. However, the gold rush was quickly over and Wyndham remained as a small service centre for the surrounding pastoral ventures. Given the difficulties of land transport for so long into the 20th century, the port retained its importance in those times. Like a number of other northern ports, it was bombed during WW2.

The port area, with ship at jetty. Old town at base of hill.

On our previous visit here, my over-riding impression was of a little settlement battling to keep being. The improvements in land transport in the Kimberley did not favour Wyndham, for the most part, because it is not on either the main highway or the Gibb River Road. So, it requires a dedicated trip there, and the majority of tourists do not seem to bother – to their loss. However, the development of roads through the Kimberley did allow Wyndham to grow as a meat/cattle shipping port.

Ship departing. Blue roofed pens of the Crocodile Farm

Our first stop at Wyndham was at the Five Rivers Lookout, reached by a sealed road that climbed steadily to the top of The Bastion – a peak right behind the town.

Cambridge Gulf from The Bastion – looking north towards the Ord River mouth

As suggested by the lookout name, five rivers flow into the Cambridge Gulf, at or near Wyndham. The Ord we had already encountered around Kununurra. The King was a short River, rising in the hills of El Questro Station. The Pentecost, whose tributaries drained much of the central Kimberley. The Forrest River passed mostly through the indigenous lands to the west of the Cambridge Gulf. Finally, the Durack, another system to the west of the Pentecost.

Upstream to the distant Cockburn Range. Past the narrow Gut in mid distance, the Pentecost enters Cambridge Gulf from the left, the Durack from the right

One gained a very good sense of the rather strange layout of the town, and the reasons for it, from up on The Bastion. The coastal, tidal mudflats and the narrowness  of the flat coastal margin were obvious.

The swamps that are the lower King River, surrounding parts of Wyndham

The original town centred on the old port, with its circular jetty. It was here that a meatworks was built and operated for years, preparing beef to be exported. For years, the little creek mouth near the jetty was the haunt of large saltie crocs – because the meatworks sent their waste products down the creek. A modern crocodile farm is not far from there.

A newer section of the town developed some distance from the old port area and it is here that most shops and housing are found. Also the quite pleasant caravan park where we had previously stayed.

Wyndham – the new town

Made our way down the big hill, turning off just before the town outskirts, to go to the Three Mile Valley. From the road’s end, here, we walked some of the way along the – dry – creek. It would be really pleasant when flowing.

Then to the old town area. which did not take long to drive around. Impulsively, M decided she wanted to do the croc farm tour and John said he’d go too. I decided to save the money – I had done so many croc farm tours in the past, in Darwin.

They enjoyed the informative tour, which of course featured some croc feeding. The farm contained its crocs mostly in pens, rather than in large, more natural lagoons, like in Darwin.

I sat in the little shop/cafe and waited for them.

There was a large cement crocodile by the entrance to the new town area.

As usual I had packed our lunches. We went to Warraiu Park to find some shade where we could sit and eat. There was a Dreamtime feature here – statues of an aboriginal family and some Dreamtime animals.

There were a number of present day aboriginals in the Park, too – not all of them sober. One lady, who told us her name was Julie, was quite insistent that we buy a carved boab nut that she had made. I actually thought it was very well done, with a lot of detail, featuring goannas and bustards – the latter a favourite bird of mine. So I bought it, for $25. I had no idea whether I was ripped off or not, but the main thing was that I really liked it.

With a final stop to photograph the cement croc at the new town’s entrance – just because it was there – drove back the way we’d come, for a short distance, then took Parry Creek Road, briefly, before taking the track to the Telegraph Hill walk and Marlgu Billabong.

From Telegraph Hill

The shortish walking track at Telegraph Hill took us via the foundations of an old wireless station – not much to see, really, of that. But it was also a lookout point over the maze of floodplains characteristic of the area. Perhaps the main feature, though, was the boabs growing on the hill, some still with nuts on. It was a pity these were too high for us to reach – I wouldn’t have minded a nice fat, uncarved one.

Continued on to the track’s end at Marlgu Billabong, where there was a bird hide overlooking the lagoon. Watched the bird activity for a while.

Marlgu Billabong

There were lots of hard-head ducks, a number of egrets, a few grebe, the occasional heron. Try as we might, couldn’t spot any type of bird we hadn’t seen before.

Hard head ducks

Back to the main road and our final touristy spot for the day – The Grotto. This was a deep valley in the surrounding rock, with a safe swimming hole at the bottom – a valued feature in these croccy parts. But to get to the water, one had to go down 140 steps hewn into the rocky cliff face – with no handrail. Not for me! Although it was the hottest day we’d had for over a week, it was getting later in the day, I was a bit weary – and I do not like heights. John’s hips were sore, so it was only M who ventured down to the water.

I wandered about up top, and tried to take some photos down into The Grotto, but they were not successful. It was quite hot among the rocks up top, so I was glad when M reappeared, reporting that it was nice enough down there, but she wasn’t sure it had been worth the effort.

Back to camp. We passed the junction of the Great Northern Highway and the Gibb River Road. On our way to Wyndham, this had featured a prominent Closed sign. But now, it was Open. So the glut of travellers aiming to traverse the northern Kimberley via this route, could now begin to empty out of Kununurra. I predicted a big exodus tomorrow.

John usually has little input into detailed decisions about where we will go, what we will see and do. Earlier in our travelling days, I used to pressure him over this. His response was usually to grab the map, have a cursory look and pick out the first name that caught his attention. Then he would be adamant that we visit there! This usually resulted in some “adventures” that I’d prefer to forget. Like on our first Kimberley trip, in 1993, when it took us two hours to drive 5kms, when John decided we must visit Crystal Creek – then about as remote as one could go in the region. Traversing large rock “steps” in the vehicle, literally through grass higher than it, just to get to a place that was open, hot, sandfly and croc infested………So, these days I don’t ask The Driver!

However, now that the weather was fining up, John decided he would really like for us to go to the Bungles, when our booked time here was through. It was a long time – 14 years – since we had been there, and M had never been. I liked the idea!


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2000 Travels July 12

WEDNESDAY 12 JULY     WYNDHAM

We decided that, since we are here, we will spend a couple of days doing the touristy things.

Today was cloudy, hazy, but hot. Wyndham does battle with Marble Bar for recognition as WA’s hottest town, it seems. Wyndham claims to have the highest consistent average temperatures.

We drove to the original, old town, port area and looked around it. The town is strung out on pockets of land between tidal salt flats, and squashed by the steep rise of the Bastion Range behind it. It is dislocated, and more like two nearby townships – the Old Town and the Three Mile which is the newer – and nicer – part.

After the early gold rush petered out, the little port serviced the needs of the big pastoral holdings of pioneers like the Durack family. In 1919 the meatworks opened, so beef was exported, but this closed in 1985. For a while, after WW2, beef was frozen here and flown to Britain – the Air Beef Scheme. I remember learning about this at school, in the 1950’s! These days, live cattle are exported from Wyndham.

The old town seems pretty decrepit now. The old meatworks buildings are run down.

Signs near the meatworks warn of the dangers of crocodiles. Apparently, in the meatworks days, the crocs were well fed by the discharge of blood and offal into the sea here – and crocs have long memories, it seems, and still hang about that area!

There is a new bulk fertilizer storage facility at the wharf area, and they are working on wharf upkeep.

We walked out on the wharf and looked at life on the mudflats exposed by the tide – there was a heron feeding, mud skippers, crabs and the like. Quite busy there, and quite engrossing.

There had been a load of cattle shipped out yesterday.

We then drove up The Bastion, the big peak behind the town, to see the outlook from the top. The road rose steeply, and twisted around, giving some rather good views as we went.

Five rivers empty into the Cambridge Gulf – the Durack, Pentecost and King, south of Wyndham, and the Forrest and Ord to the north. We have been by the Ord River already; will ford the Pentecost, Durack and King Rivers on the Gibb River Road. The Forrest River is the only one we will not encounter, in the remote country to the NW of Wyndham.

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Looking south from The Bastion. King River entry at left, Pentecost River straight ahead

The view from the Bastion was very “different” – out over the salt flats and the Gulf. And very impressive. The smoke haze make the colours interesting too.

07-12-2000 looking north from bastion lo

Looking north, over the tidal flats beside Cambridge Gulf

Drove back down again, and went to the Three Mile Valley, where there was a walking track along a creek, but we did not feel like walking in the heat, so just looked at the area and went back to camp for lunch.

After that, drove out to Marlgu Billabong, in the Parry Creek Wetlands Reserve. We took the highway back out of Wyndham for a little way, then turned back to the east. It was a great drive, some of it over dirt roads. The bird life was superb, and we had no trouble watching birds for a couple of hours. The late afternoon light on the lagoon was just beautiful.

07-12-2000 Parrys Lagoon vista.jpg

Parrys Lagoon

07-12-2000 parrys lagoon.jpg

Late afternoon light over Parrys Lagoon

Then it was back to camp for tea of sausages and vegies.

Again, I had nightmares about the van – it being ransacked and destroyed – and got very little sleep. I just have a really bad feeling about this.