Monday, 20 August 2012

20-24 August 2012 - Derby & Windjana Gorge

Drove from Fitzroy Crossing to Derby. Only two campgrounds in Derby and one 'is not suitable for children'! Not sure how they get away with that in this day and age.  The main caravan park, The Entrance, is very large but very expensive so we went on an unpowered site ($37 for 2A + 1C, they gave us one child free when I gasped at the initial quote of $42 for an unpowered site!).  It turned out to be quite a good site and most people coming from the Gibb River Road stay in unpowered sites so we saw a huge range of different camper trailer set ups come and go over our 4 days there.  Some set up and pack up really efficiently, some of just a very fancy tent on wheels! One odd thing about the caravan park though was that it had no pool!  This is unbelievable given it's location (and it's prices!).  I'd better not get started about caravan park fees and what you get (or don't get) for your money or I could be here for hours!!
Derby has a good information centre, 3 well stocked supermarkets (including a Woolies), a bakery and a number of good casual restaurants.  I had one of the best cups of coffee on the trip thus far at the coffee shop opposite the caravan park.  There is also a good art gallary - Mark Norval.   The tourist sites include the prison boab tree which is fenced.  We actually thought the prison boab tree near Wyndham was more impressive, maybe because you could get right up to it and peer inside.   For us, the most impressive site was the jetty at high and low tides.  In fact, Derby has Australia's largest tides.  You wouldn't believe how much water comes in until you see it.   Larry tried his luck fishing from the jetty but the tide was so quick it pulled his line around the jetty.  The locals were using raw red meat as bait.
The whole town is surrounded by mud flats so it's quite an odd place geographically.  The mudflats do make for spectacular sunsets as there are no trees or hills, just an endless flat horizon. 
From Derby we did a day trip to Windjana Gorge, about 120km sealed and the last 20km gravel. Windjana Gorge is sometimes described as 'the other great barrier reef' as this was all underwater millions of years ago. During the dry season, the river level drops quite low and a white sandy beach is revealed.  There's no swimming though as hundreds of freshwater crocs share the water.  We followed the walking and saw plenty of crocs, mostly just lazing on the banks.   While we enjoyed the Gorge, we all thought it was a long way to travel to then have to walk in the steaming heat and not be able to swim!!
Travel tips: Combine Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek in one day trip from either Fitzroy Crossing or Derby. If you have an off-road camper/tent, Windjana Gorge has a national park camping ground with toilets etc.  Try to time your visit to Windjana in the late afternoon when there is more shade. While in Derby, watch a sunset with some wine and cheese from the jetty!
Low tide at Derby jetty. The water laps the bottom of the top of the jetty at high tide.

The dry riverbed at Windjana Gorge

You can see a couple of cros at the end of the water. There were also pleny lazying in the sun on the opposite bank.

Walking on the dry riverbed.  The gorge walls you can see were once permanently under water years ago and formed an oceanic reef. 

The walls of the reef are compacted shells.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

15 August 2012 - Geike Gorge near Fitzroy Crossing

Geike Gorge is about 20km from Fitzroy Crossing. We did the boat ride ($45 family) which was worth doing, it's really just two barges joined together so they can carry a lot of people but the sound system is good. It was impressive to see the wet season water level just by the change in colour on the rock face. One hell of a lot of water. I found the tour booking gazebo really interesting as there were flood markers indicating the various water levels over the years, including one flood where the water was a few metres above the top of the gazebo. There are a few walking tracks to the gorge, but they don't really enable you to see much of the gorge itself.

While at the Gorge, Kate picked up off the ground a 16GB memory stick from a digital camera. It has hundreds of holiday photos on it, taken by a passenger on the Scenic Tours group that were on our boat. We rang Scenic Tours a couple of times to get the tour guide to call us so we could arrange to drop off the memory card but no-one has. It would be awful to lose so many photos, but we are not sure what to do with it. I thought I might post a picture of the family on Facebook and see what happens from that. Any other suggestions welcome.

While in Fitzroy Crossing, we stayed at the Fitzroy Crossing Resort which includes units and a camping area. The amenities’ block and other infrastructure have been constructed on mounds because the whole caravan park floods every year when the river breaks its banks. Must be a massive clean-up job once the water recedes.

Travel Tip: Fitzroy Crossing is good for a one or two night stopover. Well stocked IGA supermarket. Servo accepts Coles Vouchers. There are a few Aboriginal art galleries in the area.

Change in colour on rockface shows the wet season water level

Different colours within the gorge

Five of these tractors, each towing a camper trailer or small van arrived at Fitzroy Crossing during our stay. It would be a long slow drive around Australia, but at least you wouldn't have to worry about getting bogged!


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

14 August 2012 - Tunnel Creek via Fitzroy Crossing

We decided to do a day trip from Fitzroy Crossing to Tunnel Creek, about 40km west on the highway, then 70 km of corrugated gravel. Basically it's 750m tunnel with a creek running through it. It's was much larger than we anticipated and once in the tunnel it's pitch black. You have to wade in and out of water and the depth depends on the time of year you visit. The deepest for us was about mid-thigh level, but given it's so dark, it's a bit freaky wading through. Freshwater crocs live in the tunnel buy we chose not to tell the girls this!

Of course, Kate freaked out at the beginning of the tunnel when we came across the first batch of water so Larry had to carry her on his shoulders. About 3/4 of the way through she realised she would be able to manage the water herself. As you walk through you see stalactities (hanging on 'tight' from the ceiling!) and some bats.
At the end of the tunnel was a separate pool, but it looked a bit gungy so we didn't venture in, instead the girls found some puddles to relax in.

The tunnel has an interesting history. It was once the hideout (for about 3 years) of an Aboriginal man, Jandamarra who was wanted by the police. In the end, he was shot and killed at the entrance to the tunnel. After wading back again, we had lunch from the back of the Cruiser before facing the long corrugated drive back to Fitzroy Crossing. If you are just camping, or towing an off-road van/camper, you could continue to Windjana Gorge about 40km away and it's campground and in hindsight, we should have combined the two in a day-trip from Derby instead, however, you often don't come to these realisations until AFTER you've done the travelling! Still, we all agreed the tunnel was something unique and worth the effort.

Travel Tips: Take a torch per person and have the torch attached to a lanyard for kids. Wear old sandshoes or reef shoes. Be prepared to carry littlies on your shoulders some of the way. Bit spooky in the beginning for everyone as it’s so dark. Can do as a day trip from Fitzroy Crossing, or Derby, or stay at Windjana Gorge campground and combine both the Tunnel and Windjana Gorge. All involve corrugated gravel roads.
About to enter the tunnel

Wading through one section of water.

This photo gives you an idea of the scale of the tunnel. During the wet season it fills almost to the top.

While the tunnel is only 750m long, because it's dark and you don't know where you are putting your feet, it took us about 40 minutes to walk the length of the tunnel.
Shows how dark it was inside.  Torches are an absolute necessity.

The story of Jandamarra.


Friday, 10 August 2012

10 August 2012 - Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater, near Halls Creek, WA

We had initially planned to camp at Wolfe Creek Crater, approx 150km from Halls Creek, WA, but after doing about 12 loads of washing of our camping gear from just 2 nights in Purnululu NP (Bungles), we decided to make it a day trip instead.

Packed the Engel and drove approx 2 hours on corrugated roads to the Crater.  From the road, the crater just looks like a small mountain rise.  After the obligitory plackard reading, we headed up a rocky path for about 100m.  This brought us to the top of the crater rim.  Wow!  The crater is about 850m wide, with a perfectly formed rim.  When the meteorite hit the earth approx 300,000 years ago, the crater would have been approx 120m, however in the intervening years, the crater has filled with sand and is now only 20m deep.  We decided to walk around half the rim and then follow a track opposite us that led into the base of the crater.

The path was rocky and the spinefix grass prickly (tip: wear long pants) and it took us about an hour to walk half way round with plenty of photo stops and just pausing to enjoy the sight.  Hard to describe, this near perfect ring of mountains in an otherwise totally flat landscape.  When we reached the path into the crater we slipped and slided as the path was very steep with loose rock and lots of red sand.  Made it to the bottom, walked through grass taller than Elizabeth and wandered across the crater floor.  As cattle no longer graze in the crater, much of the natural vegetation has started to return and a number of wildflowers were evident.  Once across the crater, it was a very steep walk up the other side, no sand this time, but lots of rock and straight up!

Some more photos and then time for lunch.  Unfortunately, there are no picnic tables, so we made sandwiches from the back of the Cruiser before starting the 2 hour journey back to Halls Creek.  On the way we stopped at some old buildings and wondered if they had been used in the movie set of 'Wolf Creek'.   Not sure if I want to see the movie again to check.  It was a long day, but we felt a sense of achievement knowing that not many people would make the journey given the road conditions, and even fewer would walk around and through the crater.  Sure beats being at work on a Friday!!

Travel tips - the Crater has no picnic table/chairs, but has a drop toilet (BYO loo paper).  Camping ground has toilets, but no water.  Free to camp.  Wear long pants as the spinifex is sharp and stings. Halls Creek has a good IGA supermarket for grocery supplies. Shell servo accepts Coles vouchers.

Fortunately no weird looking men with tow trucks turned up to help us!  Secretly, I was relieved that a few other tourists came and went while we were there! (Reference: Wolf Creek the movie)

Prior to our challenging walk around the rim and through the crater.

View of the crater floor from the rim

Grass on the outer rim of the crater base was over our heads. 

Some ballet moves in the base of the crater.  Why not?