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 August 11

FRIDAY 11 AUGUST   BARNETT RIVER GORGE TO KUNUNURRA   555kms

John had a bit of a rash on his torso, yesterday afternoon, and he woke this morning much worse, with hundreds of little spots and itchy lumps. It was almost a measles-like rash, but he was not really feeling ill enough to have something like that. In fact, he did not really know if he was feeling ill or not! It did not seem to be a heat rash. We wondered if there had been something in the water at one of the swimming places – but I was not affected at all. Quite strange and rather concerning.

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John feeling miserable

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Very spotty!

We packed up and continued west on the Gibb River Road, to Mt Barnett store, for fuel. This was $1.22 a litre.

We debated whether to continue on to Old Mornington, as had been our plan. This was about 100kms south of the Gibb River Road, by the Fitzroy River, and thus rather remote if John did get really ill. Our plan after that had been to drive the Tableland Track back to the east, if it was open  – and that would be particularly remote.

We decided to play safe and head back east along the Gibb, abandoning the plan to drive the Tableland Track.

Fortunately, we had gotten away early this morning.

So we traversed the road already driven on this trip.

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Gibb River Road – burnt and unburnt sides. The road is an effective firebreak for early dry season burns

Stopped to have lunch at Bindoola Creek crossing, so we made good time to there. The ford was much drier than when we’d come this way a month ago.

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Bindoola Creek with much less water

There was not much traffic. We wondered if the early heat was deterring some travellers?

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Kapok trees, the Cockburn Range and long dry season grass

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The Pentecost River again

The road was more corrugated. There were now quite a lot of burnt areas. It was a relief to reach the highway and the bitumen again – it had been a while!

We reached Wyndham about 4pm. John went into the store to buy a newspaper and a cask of wine – we had been deprived of same for some time. I stayed in Truck , trying to phone Kununurra to see if we could get a place in a caravan park. John really wanted to press on there, if we could, rather than overnight at Wyndham. I think he just wanted one last burst of effort to get set up for a few days, before giving in to feeling miserable! It made sense to get settled in the larger town, in case he got worse.

An elderly aboriginal kept leaning in the open window of truck, asking me for the “loan” of a dollar. He was being quite pestering. This sort of thing is not the greatest experience for tourists. I remember R at Honeymoon saying that there was too much booze and fighting in Wyndham.

At the caravan park, it was great to see the van again, and see that all was well, even though it was also disappointing to have cut short the time along the Gibb. I actually felt quite dislocated – this morning was camped by the creek at the Gorge, and expecting to be camped by the Fitzroy River tonight, instead of being back in town!

It took us a while to hitch up the van, and secure things for travel, with some distraction from a horse that wanted to find food in the van, and actually stuck its head in the door.

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Packing up at Wyndham

When we began to open up the van, I got quite a fright. This is rather a quirky caravan park and someone had put a life sized plaster statue of a jabiru by the van. I went to pick it up and move it out of the way – and it squawked and moved of its own volition! Totally tame bird.

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Jabiru – for real!

We paid our $80 storage fee.

It was just on 6pm when we reached Kununurra.

As it gets dark early in these parts, we drove the last part in the dark.

Set up at Ivanhoe Village Caravan Park, also in the dark. Our site cost $19.80, after discount. Having the last six nights free camped had been good for the budget.

John insisted on doing the full set up, even though he was tired and ill tempered by now. He made some annoying mistakes, which didn’t help, like putting the wrong side of the van up on a levelling block!

Late tea was bacon and eggs for John, which he requested – not really invalid food! I had some lovely vine-ripened tomatoes that I bought at the Reception desk when we were checking in.

The lady at Reception said there was a mysterious rash doing the rounds, and most of the Kimberley had it!  It was hard to work out how John came by it, though.

Well, at least we do not have to move tomorrow, and we are close to medical facilities, if needed. Greater peace of mind.

I have to admit that a proper shower was much appreciated!

Because of the requirement to get to Karratha for the Olympics, the original rough plan that I’d made for this jaunt, had us away for only about a month, anyway, and back in Kununurra about this time. However, it had not included such a long stay at Honeymoon. It had included Old Mornington, the Tableland Track, the Bungles, and the Duncan Road back to here! Clearly, was a rough guide only, and we have unfinished business in these parts. Next year?

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Where we drove and camped


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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.

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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.

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Parrys Lagoon

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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.


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2000 Travels July 11

TUESDAY 11 JULY   LAKE ARGYLE TO WYNDHAM   180kms

We were up early to do more packing up and move the van to the storage area.

The day was really hot and sticky.

John did not like the long, dead grass where the van was put, so borrowed a spade and hacked it back for a couple of metres. I didn’t like the location at all – thought it was very vulnerable. There were no fences, gates, lights at night, surveillance at all. This was really not what we’d had in mind, at all. Thought it would be stored near the resident caretaker, like it was at Wonga. They told John they never have any trouble with stuff there, but I still felt really uneasy. Maybe it was just separation anxiety?

It was the middle of the day when we finally we ready to head off in Truck. We stopped by the roadside, not far out of the Argyle settlement, and ate our lunch of cold left over fish from last night.

In Kununurra, bought alcohol for a month, and methylated spirits to prime the lamp, because I thought I’d forgotten to pack what we had in the van. John bought a pie and sausage roll – he was hankering for a last high calorie “fix”!

Refuelled Truck at the BP – 99cpl – a lot cheaper than the Shell fuel the other day.

Headed west out of Kununurra. Along the road, decided it was too late in the afternoon to go on to Jacks Waterhole, on the Gibb River Road, as we’d planned, so stayed on the faster, sealed road and went to Wyndham instead.

07-09-2000 Ord below Diversion Dam

The Ord River downstream of the Diversion Dam and the highway

It was a very scenic drive with ranges always somewhere in view. We drove through some burning off.

Then we started to see large areas of tidal mud flats to our left. Wyndham is situated beside Cambridge Gulf, a very large inlet where five large rivers feed in to the sea. The town began as a small port for the Halls Creek gold rushes in the late 1800’s. Then, through much of the 1900’s, it was an export point for Kimberley beef.

I was expecting a town more in keeping with its history and was disappointed that it seemed rather small and dilapidated.

We booked into the Wyndham Caravan Park, for $18.70 a night. It was back a couple of blocks from the main street. There were only a few formal sites, but lots of shady trees. The amenities were adequate.

We set up the big tent. It took a while, but John wanted the extra space and ease of access.

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The big tent set up at Wyndham Caravan Park

We soon discovered there were sandflies! Probably not surprising, given the tidal mud flats and mangroves not too far away.

In a nearby caravan, there was much yelling and abusing of young children! Not pleasant.

John was still full from his earlier indulgences. He had some watermelon for tea. I had some salad and feta cheese.

We were both really tired so it was an early night. I had nightmares about disasters befalling the van, so I guess I really was uneasy about leaving it where it was.

07-11-2000 to wyndham