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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!