Bright and its surrounding area is a wonderful place to visit at any time of year but Autumn is my favourite time. Not only is there is breathtaking alpine scenery, quaint towns and villages steeped in history, wonderful river walks and easy access to Victoria’s amazing rail trails, at this time of the year, the area is awash with colour.
But would Covid allow us to visit? Well, back in early May, Kenn and I finally made it. And Bright and Mount Buffalo did not disappoint. There were still plenty of beautiful, mature autumn trees decorating the streets and countryside in hues of gold, red and burgundy, even though the trees would have been at their best, a couple of weeks earlier as many of the yellows had fully dropped.
Bright is a long way from Byron Bay, roughly 1800 kms. So we timed our trip to coincide with our grand daughter, Genevieve”s birthday celebrations in Sydney. The trip along the Pacific highway was very enjoyable as the last section of the highway between Ballina and Coffs Harbour has been completed. We stopped for brunch at Cafe Aqua in Coffs. This cafe has won many awards for its coffee and its food is excellent: tasty and reasonably priced. It is opposite the foreshore park, so a great spot to stretch your legs if you so wish. A few hours later, we found ourselves at Hornsby on the outskirts of Sydney. This time, we did not get into the wrong lane and find ourselves heading for the Blue Mountains along the North Connex tunnel! This time, we stayed on the M1 and made our way to the Northern Beaches stress-free.
Genevieve, who started school this year, was turning 6! It seems like yesterday that I was holding her for the first time in Perth! She was so excited about her party and so to were her two little sisters. 20 little friends had been invited and there was going to be a very special guest, a princess who would paint their faces and organise party games .
The party was a huge success. We also made time for a coastal walk to Manly and popped into the Art gallery there.
Early Monday morning found us navigating our way out of Sydney and along the Hume highway to Bright. My sister, Jenny recommended that we stop at Trapper’s Bakery in Goulburn for morning tea. It was a great choice and just opposite the Big Merino so it was easy to find. The rest of the drive passed without incident except for the last 100 or so kms. We didn’t have a road map of Victoria with us and although we did know where Bright was, as we crossed the Murray River at Albury, we decided to ask Google Maps to direct us the rest of the way. It was definitely the scenic route as we navigated various back roads to Bright. Still, we arrived with plenty of time to check into our accommodation, a cabin in a nearby caravan park just a few kilometres from Bright on the Ovens River. This was our first time in this type of accommodation and the cabin exceeded our expectations. It was spacious, quiet, well equipped, very comfortable and even had a wood fire. That evening, snuggled up on the leather sofa watching the flames dancing about in the fire and with a good red wine from Rutherglen in my hand, I felt that our little Victorian tripette had really begun!
Early next morning, we enjoyed an early morning walk to the river before breakfast.
As well as enjoying some of what this region has to offer, we were also reconnecting with a long lost branch of Kenn’s family. The two branches hadn’t met for well over a hundred years following Kenn’s great grandfather’s departure for the green fields of the central west of NSW.
While socialising with others is always wonderful, we were looking forward to exploring more of the haunts of Kenn’s ancestors. His great grandfather James had been raised near Wandiligong, which is just a few kilometres from Bright. As we drove towards the village in the early morning mist, we were treated to a quintessential, Australian bush scene.
Wandiligong has a rich mining history and there is an interesting walk on the outskirts of the village that takes you along the creek to the old Chinese diggings.
This was going to be a busy day. The Bright Visitor Centre was our next stop. We found out that we didn’t have enough time this trip to really explore the rail trails so decided to visit Mt Buffalo instead. This is a bush walker’s paradise. Due to time constraints, we chose three of the short walks to tackle: the Eurobin falls Track, the Gorge Catani Track and the Horn Track.
Next, we wanted to visit the chalet and the Gorge Day Visitor Centre. We were disappointed to see the chalet still in disrepair. Hopefully, it will be restored to its former beauty sometime soon. It was time for an early lunch. While the picnic facilities were very good all over the mountain, we hoped to support local businesses so hadn’t packed any lunch, only water. However, on on the day we went, no cafes were open, a fact the visitor centre in Bright and the information sheet from National Parks had failed to mention. Since we couldn’t while an hour away over an amazing lunch and linger over a hot latte, we set off for Lake Catani.
On the return to the Gorge Day Visitor Area, we noticed signs for walks to the Underground river and the Monolith. We were so tempted to do both but knew that we also wanted to go to the horn, the highest point on Mount Buffolo. The Horn is about a 30 minutes drive from the Gorge and the last couple of kms is on an unsealed road. While the walk is only a km long return, it is very steep.
It was time to channel our inner hunter gatherer and go in search of food. There were not eateries open at 4pm in Bright so we settled on a ‘gourmet’ pie and a coffee. In this part of the world, a pie is not just a pie! It is gourmet, artisan, vegan or lovingly pummeled into shape by somebody’s nanna and baked to perfection in an ancient wood stove! Accordingly, they are not cheap but starving walkers can’t be choosy! And really, what a wonderful day we had had.
Back at our cabin, there was another treat: a beautiful sunset.
Another action packed day awaited us the following morning. We wanted to fit in the famous “Canyon Walk” at Bright, hightail it to Yakandandah for lunch with Carmel, one of Kenn’s cousins, make it back to Bright for afternoon tea with the Victorian ‘Sealeys’ at their farm and treat ourselves to Dinner at an historic pub. Could we do it?
Lunch at Yackandandah and afternoon tea did not disappoint. either. It was so good to reconnect and natter away. But after such a busy day, we certainly didn’t want to cook for ourselves. The Happy Valley Pub came highly recommended by the relatives and was on the way home. We had no idea that the place would be so busy on a Thursday night but serendipity, they had a table for two! The pub is well over 100 years old and instead of one large dining area, we found ourselves in one of several smaller dining rooms, which were tastefully decorated in a colonial manner and warmed by open fires. Needless to say, we really enjoyed our meal but would heed the advice we had been given to book ahead next time.
It was overcast and very cold as we packed up next morning. Apparently, it was snowing just up the road and we certainly could believe it. It made leaving a little easier and as well, we were concerned about a covid case that had been found in Melbourne and didn’t want to be caught on the wrong side of the border.
There is just one little highlight I would like to share with you. On our way back to Sydney, my sister Jenny suggested that we meet at the Sir George Pub at Jugiong for lunch. This was a great suggestion. We got to eat a delicious meal, stretch our legs and explore the Long Track Pantry which was right next door. The pantry’s newsletter shared two of their iconic recipes, one of which I have tried and loved.
This trip was not long enough! Next time, hopefully next year, we would like to revisit Omeo, Mount Beauty, Yackandandah and Harrietville. We’re both keen to tackle some of the rail trails that criss cross the area and I know Kenn would like to kayak some of lakes and rivers. And there might be time for a little detour to Rutherglen, one of my favourite wine areas or perhaps to the Grampions? Nothing is very far away in Victoria.
It’s been an awful few weeks for all of us. There is such a sense of loss pervading the world. It’s hard to grasp the loss of life first in China, then Italy, Iran, Spain and more recently the UK and the United States. While here in Australia, we seem to be doing well in comparison to the rest of the world, Covid 19, with its plethora of social distancing regulations is still affecting all of us in many different ways : some good, some not so good.
For example, I thought that social distancing and social isolation would be a breeze for me. After all, hadn’t I whiled away many an afternoon lost between the pages of a good book? All by myself? And I had made a serious New Year’s resolution; namely to don my Marie Kondo persona and declutter every room in the house – a herculean task that would keep me gainfully employed at home and Vinnies restocked for the foreseeable future! And there was the cupboard full of crafty stuff longing to see the light of day. All I had to do was open it.
But I discovered that it’s one thing tochooseto be isolated and busy in your own home and quite another to be forced to isolate and social distance and be busy in your own home. Initially, for me, it changed how I viewed these ‘at home’ activities. They lost some of their appeal because, with the exception of going out for some exercise, they were the only things I could do. I spent too much time dwelling on what I couldn’t do. Whether it was spending precious time with the grandkids, going out for coffee or a meal with friends, enjoying a visit to the cinema or local library, being able to exercise with more than one person or leisurely browse the shops for that perfect but non-essential gift or new pair of shoes, I was resentful that for a time, my connections to the wider world had changed.
However, when I began focusing on what I could do, I found that although much had changed, I had so much for which I was grateful.
Back in early February nearly 24 inches or 600 mls of rain decided to fall on Byron Bay over a couple of days. It was a deluge. So much rain that we were almost flooded!
Despite spending far too many hours sweeping water away dressed for the occasion in my pyjamas and gumboots, or on hold with the SES or bemoaning the lack of sandbags, I am very grateful that the house survived intact and was not awash with mud and slush.
So of course, now that we are confined for the most part, to the house, Kenn and I have been busy repairing the damage. Generally, I’ve watched, admired, made coffee and planted while Kenn did all the hard stuff.
And while the garden continues to be a work in progress, we have taken advantage of the beautiful autumn weather to leave the house and get some exercise. Mindful of social distancing we have generally avoided the walk up to the lighthouse for even in this time of social distancing amid the Corona virus pandemic, there are still lots of dedicated walkers ahead of you and behind you. Instead we have enjoyed the Three Sisters’ Walk at Broken Head and its easy to see why.
The track is only 1.6 kms return and follows the clifftop to a lookout over Kings Beach.
We have also enjoyed daily beach walks. We are lucky that people have obeyed the rules and so our beaches have not been closed.
Kenn has thoughtfully pumped up the tyres on our pushbikes and we have ridden around our local bike track. It hasn’t changed very much since I wrote abouta year or so ago. And of course, I’ve been able to go to golf. I really was upset when for two whole days golf was on the taboo list. Byron Bay Golf Course is just beautiful at the moment and I’m enjoying the stroll around the course while I try to curb my wayward driver, over enthusiastic pitching wedge and disobedient putter. It’s great to chat, from a distance with your partner as you complete the course but of course I miss the the fun of the 19th hole. But how good is it that I’m able to play?
Now that I can’t go out for dinner or lunch as I used to do, I found myself spending a lot more time in the kitchen. I’ve been cooking some retro recipes such as my sister Jenny’s curried sausages. Haven’t had curried sausages for years but these were delicious. And of course I’ve baked bread! As I kneaded vigorously for the required 10 or so minutes I told myself that I was building muscle that I would be able to utilise for my drive. ( I wonder how many loaves of bread I will have to knead before I notice a change?)
My Marie Kondo persona has also made a tentative reappearance. The great decluttering has begun! Kenn tackled the garage and following quite a few trips to the tip, the floor and walls resurfaced. Inside, the study is once again an inviting space. There’s still so much to do but then Covid 19 isn’t going to go away anytime soon.
Now I’ve never been one to linger over housework but Covid has made me more thorough than normal. I actually wipe most surfaces such as floors, benches and door handles with disinfectant everyday where it would have been once every few days or in the case of door handles, once in a blue moon. To make the task more appealing, I’m using a local product that has a wonderful scent of lemon myrtle. It’s like bringing the rainforest into your home.
Nor have my afternoons been idle. There has been time to read or binge on Netflix or Foxtel while knitting a little cardigan here or a little jumper there for the grand children. The craft cupboard is well and truly open for business.
I’m hanging out for an easing of restrictions. While I was sad to say goodbye to our overseas trip to the UK ( we were due to fly out late May) I’m more concerned that I won’t be able to travel to Darwin at the end of July to meet a new grand child. When this little one comes into the world, Kenn and I will have seven little Australian grandchildren. Who would have thought? We were childless nearly 5 years ago! At the very least, it would be lovely to be able to travel intrastate and catch up with family that we haven’t seen for months. While face-time is great, it can’t replace that special hug a little one bestows.
For the moment we have to keep on keeping and focus on those little things that make each day special: the flowers, the blue butterfly that loves visiting the azalea, the breeze in the trees or just that special cup of coffee made for you with love.
I have a confession to make. I thought I was fairly au fait with my Australian geography until my daughter Lyndsay and her husband Reece traveled across the Kimberley with the express purpose of exploring Cape Leveque,
“Cape Leveque? Is’nt that somewhere in New Zealand,” I asked?
“No Mum, it’s the tip of the Dampier Peninsula which is north of Broome!” Lyndsay replied
“And just what’s so great about the place?” I demanded to know. “I know why people want to explore places like Cape Tribulation in Far North Queensland on the East coast. After all, that’s where you’ll find the Daintree rainforest, Mossman Gorge and the Great Barrier Reef. But what’s so special about Cape Leveque?”
” It’s remote, beautiful, serene and unspoilt. You’ll understand when you’re there,” she answered.
So a visit to Cape Leveque became a must do on our Kimberley adventure. We found ourselves driving from the Ramada Eco Resort south of Broome to Kooljaman on the northern tip of Cape Leveque. We wanted to spend a couple of days there before working our way south along the cape towards Broome and Derby where we would begin the trek home to Byron Bay.
Kooljamanat Cape Leveque is a remote wilderness camp owned and run by the Indigenous Bardi Jawi Communities. We opted to stay in a shady powered campsite from which we had a wonderful view of the lighthouse. I would definitely recommend booking in advance. We witnessed many being turned away and we weren’t in the Peak season.
As soon as we had set up camp, it was time for a swim and an exploratory walk .
Late afternoon, found us back at the resort, enjoying a sundowner before we made our way down to the western beach to watch the sunset splash the Pindan cliffs with colour.
Travel often brings moments of serendipity and Cape Leveque was to prove no exception. The following morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we were meandering along the swimming beach, trying to decide if it was hot enough to plunge in, when a voice from the water called out:
“Kenn Sealey, is that you?”
Lo and behold, it was a group of old friends from Condobolin whom we hadn’t seen for over 20 years! They too were exploring the Kimberley but in reverse order to us. We had a lot of catching up to do so agreed to meet that evening for dinner at Kooljaman’s restaurant. But before that happened, we had a pearl farm to explore.
Cygnet Bay Pearl farm is just a few kilometers away from Kooljaman on the eastern side of the cape overlooking King Sound. There are lots of accommodation options here as well. As well as exploring the pearl galleries, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch on the deck overlooking the horizon pool and a boat tour.
However, the tour was fabulous. We witnessed the huge tidal movements that make this part of the world so interesting and explored many of the islands that speckle the sound. It is definitely worth doing your research though. There are so many different tours to take including one that takes you to a waterfall in the sea!
All good things must end and it was time to return to Kooljaman and prepare for dinner with our intrepid friends, who have serious camping and 4WD skills having reached the Kimberley via the Strzelecki Track.
It was time to leave Kooljaman and head south. We were heading for Whalesong Campground,another Lyndsay suggestion. Whalesong campground is located on Pender Bay just around the corner from Middle Lagoon. This has to be one of the most magical places I have ever camped.
Access to the campsites is via a private track through pristine bushland.
And the open air facilities such as the shower and kitchen were rustic, functional and beautiful.
For a small cost, quality wood was delivered to our campsite.
The campsite had the most amazing views over the bay especially in the early morning as the sun came up.
Whalesong also runs a coffee hub every morning where you can also purchase a range of Gubinge ( Kakadu Plum) products which are created on site by this wonderful indigenous family in a sustainable, ethical and wild harvest way. Do take the time to check out their website. We bought some for us and some as gifts for friends back home. A real taste of the Kimberley!
As we were spending a couple of nights here, we decided to check out Middle Lagoon which had also come highly recommended. We packed a picnic lunch, and drove there in about 20 minutes. But while Middle Lagoon has a lovely position around the point from Pendar Bay, it was also very crowded. It is obviously very popular with the caravan and boating set despite the terrible road in! However the beaches weren’t crowded and the swimming was idyllic.
All too soon, it was time to break camp and head south to Derby. On the way, we stopped at Beagle Bay.
So as Lyndsay had predicted, I discovered that Cape Leveque is indeed remote, beautiful serene and unspoilt. It generates its own, unique wonder that more than justifies the effort it takes to get there. It is an essential part of a Kimberley adventure, and like so many others, we would love to return.
Let the fun begin. Finally, we would be roughing it: an unforgiving dirt road, an untried tent and campfire meals under the stars. What could be better?
Leaving beautiful El Questro, we turned onto the Gibb and headed for Broome about 800 kms away. Almost immediately, the bitumen gave way to the rough stony surface that the Eastern Gibb is known for and as we bounced our way towards the famous Pentecost River crossing, I wondered what the road held in store for us.
I knew we couldn’t stop at every landmark or experience everything the Gibb had to offer. For example, it was such a poor wet season that the iconic Mitchell Falls were reduced to almost a trickle, so we decided very early on not to tackle the Kalumburu Rd which intersects with the Gibb and which is the only way to the falls. But like everyone else, we had to cross the Pentecost River.
Our first stop was ‘Ellenbrae’ Station which was only a few kilometres off the Gibb and just over 200 kms from El Questro. We had been on the road for only about three hours, but the Gibb had been so rough in patches, that one of the bolts which hold the driving lights on had broken off. Kenn needed a little time to make repairs. Staying here would also give us heaps of time to explore and set up our new tent for the very first time in a great spot in the campground.
We were keen to sample their famous scones and they were delicious. Like many places on the Gibb, you can’t book in advance: it’s first in, first serve unless there are special circumstances. . We had hoped to stay at Ringer’s campground which has its own billabong but unfortunately that was taken by a group of bike riders on a charity ride. So we ended up in the Jackaroo’s Campground. This was still a great option. Campsites came with a fire pit and we were allowed to collect wood from the bush. There were hot showers with the water heated by a donkey heater ( I had never seen one of these in action before) and flush toilets. And everything was clean! Soon our tent was up, bed made ( with jumpers as pillows) table and chairs arranged and wood for the evening fire collected. The driving light was safely disconnected and now it was time for fun.
But our mishaps didn’t end with the loss of a driving light and our pillows. Back at camp, we started preparing dinner. I was planning a tasty Tuna Pasta dish and went to put the water on to boil for the pasta when … our gas stove nearly blew up! We hadn’t realised that when Kenn exchanged our near empty gas bottle for a full one back in Byron, they had given him a bottle with an incompatible fitting. What to do? A friendly couple offered to boil some water for us so I busily chopped shallots and capsicum and grated some cheese. When the water was boiling, I bought the pot over to the table, put in my egg noodle nests and put a lid on. Hardly the orthodox method for cooking pasta but it worked. I drained the water, added the tuna in oil and the vegies, stirred and put the lid on again to heat through. Surprisingly, it was quite tasty. Our new friends from Western Australia invited us to join them for a cuppa around the campfire. Ah, a coffee to soothe the jangled nerves!
So after a healthy breakfast of weetbix and fruit, we packed up and headed for Mt Barnett,Manning Gorge and Imintji Campground. Now we had checked, double checked and triple checked that we had left nothing behind at the campsite at Ellenbrae. But we had scarcely gone any distance when Kenn realised that his iphone was not in his pocket. We knew that it had to be in the vehicle but where? The car was so jam packed with stuff that it would be a serious mission to stop and search for it. Kenn made an executive decision that the search could wait until we set up camp at Imintji later that day.
And so we continued along the Gibb. We passed the Kalumburu turnoff and the road conditions changed. Instead of a rough stony surface the Gibb now presented us with some of the worst corrugations that we have driven over. And the wonderful escarpment scenery that we had driven through to that point had given way to relatively flat savannah as we bumped, bounced and shook our way to the Mt Barnett Roadhouse about halfway along the Gibb. . It was approaching lunchtime and given our cooking situation, we treated ourselves to takeaway. Kenn also topped up our fuel, as we thought that this was the only place on the Gibb where fuel could be purchased.
It is here that you buy the permit to visit Manning Gorge. But the iphone issue hung over our heads and we wanted to press on to Imintji as we had been told there were limited campsites and we didn’t want to miss out. As it turned out there were heaps to choose from which a phone call from the Roadhouse to the Imintji store would have confirmed. Ah you live and learn! As a consequence, we missed our opportunity to visit this beautiful gorge. Our loss!
So we pressed onto Imintji. In the Ngarinyin language, Imintji means “a place to sit down”. The campground is located at the foot of the spectacular King Leopold range and you pay for your campsite at the store. The people at the store were lovely and very quickly we selected a campsite with a sunset view of the range, put up the tent and found the iphone! We were happy campers.
Imintji is relatively close to Bell Gorge and we had the whole afternoon with which to explore it. On the way, we passed Silent Grove, the National Parks campground. It too looked very pleasant. The track to the gorge is not very shaded and we were quite hot by the time we reached the upper gorge. It was beautiful, a series of shallow pools which trickle into each other and eventually form a waterfall which cascades to a pool in the lower gorge.
Back at Imintji, we reconnected with a young family who were travelling for a year around Australia. We had first met them at Emma Gorge back at El Questro where their three delightful little girls, (the youngest was just four and a half) had chatted to us, showing us their special discoveries: pet rocks and special pools and giving us helpful hints of where not to walk. The family was spending a couple of days at Imintji before travelling to the Mornington Wilderness Area. And the girls put the time to good use.
As we checked into the store next morning for cappuccinos , we also realised that we should have bought fuel here as well. We were unaware that the store sold fuel! It was over 30cents per litre cheaper than Mt Barnett! And when you’re filling a thirsty Prado, that can make a considerable difference.
We were now traveling from Imintji to Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek. To get there we drove through the magnificent King Leopold Ranges. Sometimes the road cut through the ranges and at other times the road opened up to reveal incredible vistas of unspoilt wilderness.
We were surprised at how quickly, we got to Windjana Gorge. It only took a couple of hours from Imintji. One of the things that had determined our itinerary was the booking at Windjana Gorge. According to the WA National Parks website, sites must be pre-booked and paid for online. So of course we did, only to discover that we could have just rocked up and put our payment in a box. But maybe that was only the case for this early part of the season and being locked in to a particular date did enable us to maximise our exploration time..
Windjana Gorge is one of the most spectacular gorges in the Kimberley. The gorge cuts through the Napier Range which part of the ancient Devonian limestone reef which can also be seen at Geikie Gorge and Tunnel Creek. While the Lennard River runs through the gorge in the wet season, in the dry it forms large pools where the freshwater crocodiles lurk.
What to see first? Since we had a whole afternoon at our disposal, we decided to go to Tunnel Creek and then visit the Gorge for the evening spectacle of crocodile bat hunting.
Tunnel Creek is WA’s oldest cave system and it is here that you can walk through a tunnel following the creek as it flows through the Napier Range. We knew we had to wear old sneakers, carry a torch and be prepared to get wet as at certain points in the tunnel you have to wade or swim through pools. I was surprised by how eerie and thrilling I found the whole experience. I led the way, carrying the torch while Kenn took our photos.
Back at Windjana Gorge, we had time for a cuppa before our first walk into the Gorge. It was late afternoon and the reflections on the water were lovely.
Walking back to our campsite, we were surprised to see that the campground was full to bursting Surprisingly, we hadn’t felt crowded when exploring the gorge and hoped that the crowds would stay away when we walked the Gorge Trail next morning.
There was a lot to see on the trail which follows a track through beautiful bush which fringes the gorge.
And beside us and across the gorge, was the incredible Devonian reef, complete with fossils!
And of course there were Boab trees. But here the Boab was flowering and fruiting.
And so our time at Windjana Gorge came to a close. Even though we had booked an extra night at the gorge, we had experienced the main attractions and some extra time in Broome beckoned. After all, we had a lot ( and I mean a lot: everything was coated in bright red dust at this point) of washing to do, a camping store to visit and some pillows to buy before we continued our camping adventures on Cape Leveque.
This road trip along the Gibb had been amazing despite our minor hiccups. I wouldn’t mind doing it again, but after a really good Wet season and perhaps making it up to Mitchell Falls and down to the Mornington Wilderness Area just to mention a couple of places we didn’t visit.
But the road delivered what I had been hoping to experience: sweeping wilderness vistas full of deep, rich colours and the magical interplay between rock and water that is so symbolic of the Kimberley. And we had a real sense of being on an adventure, of living a little bit on the edge. After all you’re a long way from suburbia on the Gibb.
I hope you can join me as Kenn and I get a taste of Broome, the gateway to the Western Kimberley Coast.
The Western Kimberley exceeded our expectations. It is so majestic, so wild and it has to be said, so red!. On this part of our Kimberley Road Trip we drove from Katherine in the Northern Territory along the picturesque Victoria Highway to Kununurra, in Western Australia. There we explored the town and the beautiful Ord River, which will be the subject of this post and reveled in the natural wonders of El Questro Wilderness Park which will be the subject of Part 2.
Someone once said, ” Aim for the sky, but move slowly, enjoying every step along the way. It is all those little steps that make the journey complete” and this certainly applied to the 600 kilometre drive from Katherine to Kununurra.
While the first 100 or so kilometres was through fairly flat and dry country with only a few stunted trees breaking up the landscape, we soon reached the vast Gregory National Park. We had entered the country of the mighty Victoria River where the savannah rises to sandstone escarpments on either side of the highway, a precursor of what was in store for us in the Kimberley. We took the opportunity to stretch our legs at a well sign-posted Escarpment Walk which is conveniently next to the highway. As we meandered up the hill, we followed the Nungali-Ngaliwurru and Wardaman stories through the interpretive signs about the creation of the landscape. And what a landscape it was!
A little further on, we came to the settlement of Victoria River and a closer encounter with Kimberley rocks and the Victoria River itself.
We passed the little settlement of Timber Creek and soon after, crossed the WA border and found ourselves at the Quarantine station. We thought we had disposed of everything that was banned back in Katherine, but ended up surrendering our unopened jar of Byron Bay honey. No morning sweetness for us on this trip! They take bio-security really, really seriously here.
Sooner than we expected, we were driving into Kununurra where we were spending a couple of days. I had booked an Airbnb for our stay. Unbeknownst to us at the time of booking, it turned out that we knew our host, Donna. We shared a Condobolin connection: Donna had gone to Primary School with our girls and we had taught alongside her mum. It really is a small world. Needless to say, Donna and her partner Brad made us very welcome in their beautiful Kimberley home and suggested that as soon as we had settled in, we explore the Mirima National Park which is on the outskirts of the town. The locals call the rock formations of the park, their mini Bungle Bungles and it’s easy to see why.
We found Kununurra itself to be a delightful town in a lovely setting alongside Lake Kununurra. It has an excellent supermarket and some interesting shops for those who like to browse.
Admittedly we were there at the best time of year: beautiful warm days and cool evenings. A perfect time to see more of Lake Argyle and the Ord River on a day triple j tour. An unforgettable experience. We were picked up near our accommodation and taken 70 kms by coach through Durack country to Lake Argyle.
We then drove to Lake Argyle Resort, where we caught a glimpse of the vast Lake Arglye.
Crossing the Ord Top Dam wall, we caught a glimpse of the Ord Hydro-Power Station before boarding the Triple J Tour boat for a scenic 55km cruise back to Kununurra. This has to be the best boat ride I’ve been on and I’ve been on a lot in quite a few countries.
Our stay in Kununurra had come to an end but we would be back. Like many travelers to the Kimberley, we planned to complete a circuit. We would drive to Broome and explore the Western Kimberley via the Gibb River Road and return home via the Great Northern Highway.
This meant that following our amazing Ord River cruise we would be heading for one of the jewels in the Kimberley Crown: El Questro which is conveniently situated at the beginning of the Gibb. We would save that other treasure of the Eastern Kimberley, the incredible Bungles Bungles for our return trip along the Great Northern Highway.
As we packed the car and checked our camping provisions, we were very excited. Images of Emma Gorge and Zebedee Springs had fueled our Kimberley dream . But we wondered what we would think of the wilderness park as we had friends who hadn’t been that enthusiastic about it. Please join me next time to find out.
Like many others, exploring the Kimberley region of Western Australia, a vast pristine wilderness full of beautiful gorges cut through ancient orange and red Kimberley rock and possessing a dramatic and largely untouched coastline has been on our bucket list for a long time.
While there are many ways to experience this wonderful part of Australia including luxury cruises and tours, we allocated ourselves six weeks and leaving on the first of June, drove from Byron Bay to Cape Leveque and back in our trusty Toyota Prado towing nothing.
Choosing this option gave us the freedom to customize our trip. We were able to visit parts of Queensland we had never seen, detour to Darwin to visit family and veer a little from the usual tourist path when opportunity presented itself. And our decision not to tow a caravan or camper trailer enabled us to sample a variety of accommodation which included motels, airbnb, roadhouses, outback pubs, glamping at spectacular resorts and camping in our very own, quite comfortable, two room tent. We loved the variety and the occasional touch of luxury and choosing to travel like this saved us a lot of time over all as we were able to travel faster and didn’t have to set up and pack up camp all the time.
Byron Bay to Katherine
The first stage of our adventure involved driving from Byron Bay to Katherine in the Northern Territory, a journey of around 3000 kms. We wanted the journey as well as our Kimberley destination to be memorable, so only drove for approximately 600 kms each day. This gave us an enjoyable taste of what there is to see and do in this part of the world. We stopped at Mitchell, Longreach, Mt Isa and the Three Ways roadhouse on our way to Katherine. Each destination and sometimes the little towns in between, many of which I had never heard of before, had something special to remember them by.
Our first stop was the little town of Mitchell in the Maranoa Region of South West Queensland.
We stayed in a delightful Airbnb,Serenity Housewhich was a delightful little cottage on acreage on the outskirts of town.
Although we could have easily dined in, we chose the friendly restaurant attached to the local motel for a delicious dinner. But really, the most memorable thing about Mitchell was the Great Artesian Spa.
We especially enjoyed the drive from this point on as we had an excellent straight road mainly to ourselves.
We were traveling along the Matilda Way, an iconic outback highway. We stopped at Tambo but as it was a Sunday, couldn’t stop at the famous Tambo Teddies but contented ourselves with an early lunch at the Tambo Lake and rest area.
All too soon, we were back in the car and on our way to Longreach, still a few hours away. We arrived with plenty of time to find our motel and visit the Stockman’s Hall of Fame before dinner at the Services Club.
There is a lot to see and do in Longreach but we couldn’t see it all on this trip. After all, the Kimberley was our priority. Our next stop was Mount Isa but on the way, we stopped at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum at Winton. This spur of the moment decision, (we just happened to see a billboard on the side of the road) became one of the highlights of our trip. The museum is located on the top of a ‘jump up’ a kind of flat topped hill, about 20 kms from Winton. The views over the plains from the top are wonderful.
The entry fee is not inexpensive but so worth it. And it is possible to customise your visit to suit your family or personal interests.
Firstly we viewed a short documentary about the dinosaur discoveries around Winton, their lifestyle back in the day and the manner of their death. A paleontologist then showed us the actual fossils of the two most famous dinosaurs found at Winton, who have been named Banjo and Matilda, explaining what can be deduced from them. To be so up close and personal with the remains of creatures who roamed Australia so long ago was a thrill. While this was a great orientation what really appealed to us about this museum was the visit to the Dinosaur Canyon. This is situated a kilometer or two from the main building and is accessed by a cute motorised train. The Dinosaur Canyon attraction consists of a spectacular building perched on a cliff overlooking a 300 metre elevated concrete pathway through a gorge, along which five outdoor dinosaur galleries have been positioned.
While it was fascinating to look at these wonderful bronze exhibits in the wild as it were and listen to the informative commentary, children and adults alike were encouraged to make brass rubbings at each exhibit and take away a personal reminder of their visit.
One gallery remains very much a work in progress. This is the valley of the Cycads. This is because drought and white ants have damaged the original plantings but the curators are determined to succeed.
I will admit that our visit was enhanced by the weather. It was a glorious early June day and all around us, the bush was flowering and the birds were in full song.
Back at the reception area, we lunched at the cafe, which also has a lovely outlook. I appreciated my cappucchino, something not always readily available in the Outback. Back in the Prado, we still had a quite a way to go to reach Mount Isa by nightfall but managed it easily.
Our overnight stay at the Copper Gate Motel was very pleasant and after refueling we headed north and west over the Barkly Tableland. It was sad to see how the drought has really put its mark on this area. Even so, it had an eerie beauty of its own.
Our next stop was the Three Ways Roadhouse where luckily we didn’t have to fill up with fuel as it was well into the $1.90’s for diesel. Our accommodation in one of the ‘Glendale’ rooms was very basic but clean and relatively quiet.
Next morning, we were on the road early as we wanted to stop at Mataranka and take a dip in the Thermal pools before reaching Katherine. I could easily spend a couple of days here and noticed that the camping facilities were very good. The area was made famous by the novel We of the Never Never – a book written about nearby Elsey Station by Jeannie Gunn and there is a lot of memorabilia about Jeannie at Mataranka Homesteadwhere we stopped for lunch and had a quick swim in the Thermal Pool. This was a lovely experience but we enjoyed our trip to Bitter Springs which lies about two kilometers to the north even more.
But our time in Nature’s hot tubs was not at an end. Arriving in Katherine, we got to spend quality time with our daughter Lyndsay, husband Reece and eleven month old Ilyssia. And where better than the Katherine Hot Springs which are in the middle of a major restoration.
As we had two nights in Katherine, we also visited Katherine Gorge. Although we last visited the gorge a few years ago, I was surprised to see that the cost of kayaking and cruising the gorge had more than doubled. This time, we chose to complete a bush walk which brought us out to a great lookout.
The first part of our big adventure had come to an end. I was surprised by how rewarding this part of the trip was. Even though I experienced some serious twinges of NB (numb bum) syndrome as a result of sitting for too long in a seat that could only recline a couple of inches, the changing landscapes, the experiences and the people made the journey a worthwhile end in itself. And still the Western Kimberley beckoned. Would it live up to all the hype? I’ll let you know next time.
Recently, Kenn and I finally redeemed a Red Balloon experience voucher that our favourite Darwinites: Lyndsay and Reece had gifted us for Christmas. Luckily for me, the experience didn’t involve throwing myself out of a plane at 20,000 feet, bungee jumping off a bridge or hang gliding around the lighthouse at Byron Bay: the stuff of heart attacks or death by misadventure for as you would know if you’re a regular reader, I’m not the most coordinated of people. Instead a beautiful, peaceful river cruise on the beautiful Tweed River which flows into the Pacific Ocean just south of the NSW and Queensland border awaited us.
There were a few different cruises available to choose from but Lyndsay and Reece had selected Tweed Eco Cruises for us. Based at the Tweed Marina, 2 River Terrace Tweed Heads, they were only about an hour away from Byron Bay, and easy to find. There was ample off street parking. The Marina itself was very picturesque.
Right on time, we chugged away through the Terranora Inlet. We chose to sit on the upper deck on comfy deckchairs to enjoy the open air and the breeze. The passengers were mainly tourists, many from overseas and varied in age from a little four year old girl to a couple of very elderly ladies.
As we passed through the Inlet on our way to the main branch of the river, the captain provided just the right amount of commentary on the early history of the river and current developments.
Passing the reserve, we found ourselves on the main part of the river heading towards the river mouth at Fingal Head and then we turned around and went upstream towards Tumbulgum, a quaint riverside village. The views were lovely. Sugarcane fields and tea tree plantations surrounded us and we passed an amazing floating island.
Just before we arrived at Tumbulgum, we witnessed a bird of prey feeding from the back of the boat.
Tumbulgum awaited. We had an hour to explore the village and enjoy a welcome drink at the pub while the crew prepared our lunch.
Time was up in Tumbulgum and lunch awaited. As we retraced our steps along the river, we enjoyed a tasty seafood buffet. The salads were fresh and plentiful and the seafood generous: three or four oysters, at least half a dozen king prawns and large pieces of crab together with a complementary glass of wine as the crew had had some trouble with the barbecue. Those who had chosen the barbecue option were not disappointed either. Their steak looked wonderful and they had prawns as well.
Our cruise had taken about four and a half hours and we were home in plenty of time for dinner. While this was not as exciting as cruising and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef or as historically significant as the Gordon River Cruise in Tasmania, this was a very pleasant experience, one that I would share with visitors to our home in the future as it’s so accessible. Do you have a favourite?
Most visitors to Byron Bay love the walk that takes them up to the Bay’s iconic lighthouse and down to the Australia’s most easterly point. It offers those who are willing to tackle the steps to the top, lovely beach and coastal rainforest vistas. And leaning on the fence at the point, you can gaze out over a seemingly limitless Pacific ocean or peruse the bottom of the cliff where turtles and dolphins like to hang out. And because it is so lovely, there are always lots of people to share the moment with you.
But if you hanker for a little bit of shady solitude or want to imagine yourself castaway on your own private, pristine little cove then meandering along the Three Sisters’ walk at Broken Head just to the south of the centre of Byron Bay might be for you. It certainly suited our daughter Lyndsay who together with baby Ilyssia was visiting us from Darwin.
“Jingi Walla” you are welcomed to the track, which begins to the right of the Broken Head carpark, by the traditional owners and joint custodians of the Broken Head Nature Reserve, the Bundjalung people of Byron Bay. The track is only 1.6 kms return and follows the clifftop to a lookout over Kings Beach.
As well as the Three Sisters Walk, Broken Head has a beautiful beach which is patrolled in school holidays. Across the dunes from the beach is a large grassy play area complete with undercover picnic tables and barbecues. There is also an amenities block and basic supplies such as an essential ice cream or two, can be obtained from the kiosk in the adjoining Holiday Park.
This Easter, Kenn and I spent a couple of days at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreatin the Lamington National Park. You’ll find this wonderful national park and resort in the Gold Coast Hinterland. Just a couple of hours away from Byron Bay, O’Reilly’s is one of our favourite places to visit and chill out. As we have been making the trek up the mountain since our children were very young, this piece of World Heritage listed rainforest holds many special memories. Who could ever forget Christian’s look of amazement at his first bird feeding session? He carefully measured out the bird seed he had purchased from the cafe onto his hands and before he could catch his breath, he was covered in rosellas. They were perched up and down his arms, on his palms, on his shoulders and even on his head. They tickled and they nibbled as they made themselves comfortable. This was all so cool until he realised that the bird on his head had left a deposit on his brand new hat! Ah what fun!
This time, we were meeting up with our daughter Lyndsay, who was down from Darwin and her Finnish exchange student Lila. We booked directly with O’Reilly’s. They had a great autumn special which included accommodation in a mountain view room, daily buffet breakfast, morning and afternoon tea, a 4WD tour through the rainforest and welcome drinks. A bargain! You can check out their webpage here We arrived around Midday and luckily our room was ready and a lovely afternoon walk beckoned.
Lyndsay and Lila had arrived a day before us and decided to walk the Tooloona Creek circuit. We had walked this track awhile back. If you’re interested in seeing more of this track, See previous post here
We definitely didn’t have time to walk 20kms this time, so decided to walk along the Border Track until we caught up with them on their way home. This involved a gentle uphill climb to the Antarctic Beech Forest.
As the track winds between mossy and ferny boulders, I always feel as if I’m in a Tolkien novel and Gandalf is going to come round the bend.
About five kms along the track, we met up with Lyndsay and Lila and returned to the resort in time for afternoon tea and a dip in the sauna and hot tub.
The next day dawned cloudy and showery. Grabbing our rain jackets, we met Lila who was joining us on 4WD tour. A little bit of misty weather can enhance your outdoor experience if you let it. The tour took us on roads we had never traversed.
And our guide was very informative.
Highlights included the short walk to Moran’s Falls and the visit to Luke’s farm.
Tawny frogmouth on Luke’s farm
The creek which feeds the falls.
The misty lookout
After lunch, Kenn and I walked down to Elabana Falls. This time we didn’t make it past Picnic Rockas there was so much water and every time I put my hand down to balance myself on the slippery rocks to cross over, the leeches attacked! And I hate leeches. Despite the leeches, it felt great to stretch our legs and we didn’t get very wet as the canopy of the rainforest acted as a natural umbrella.
There really is so much to see and do at O’Reilly’s. Usually, we spend our time on completing one of the big day treks but this time we got to explore two of the short walks for the first time. They were to Mick’s towerand the Wishing Tree.
But all good things must come to an end and all too soon we were winding our way down the mountain again. Instead of taking the highway home, we decided to show Lila Natural Bridge which is part of the Springbrook National Park. The road from Nerang to Murwillumbah is beautiful. Much to our surprise, much has changed at Natural Bridge since we last visited several years ago. While the rock pool and cavern are as lovely as ever, you can no longer swim there. To compensate, a new circuit has been built that follows the creek and explores more of the surroundings.
By late afternoon, we were home and taking Lila for her first lighthouse walk. We are so lucky to be able to journey from the forest to the sea in a matter of hours. I hope if you haven’t already experienced the deep serenity of the Australian rainforest, that you get the opportunity very, very soon.
New Zealand isn’t known as the Land of the Long White Cloudfor nothing. We woke on Day 2, to a misty, cloudy day, for our walk around Endeavour Inlet to Mahana Lodge, our destination for the night. This was a relatively easy walk of around 15 kms as our chosen accommodation for Day 1, Cnoc na Lear, was situated on the northern side of the inlet.
Cnoc na Lear to Furneaux Lodge
The mist subtly coloured the landscape, giving it an otherworldly dimension as we walked the 2 or 3 kms to Furneaux Lodgewhich is located in a wonderful setting at the head of the inlet.
The weather also gave us the opportunity to test some of the gear we had purchased for just such an occasion. I have to say that my Kathmandu merino t-shirt and rain jacket passed the test. I was super comfortable and dry all day. I will admit though, it’s not a look you will see on a Paris catwalk.
Furneaux Lodge to Miners Camp
This part of the walk passes through ferny forest and traverses the head of the Inlet.
And across a suspension bridge over a tumbling creek and on through some open grassland to Miner’s camp.
It was in this open grassland that I made my first mistake. As this part of the walk was relatively flat, I hadn’t carried my walking poles, a decision I was to regret. The grass was thick, high and very, very wet. Within minutes, my tights and socks were soaked and my toes were wallowing around in my boots. Not a peaceful, easy feeling! If only I could have parted the grass with my poles, like Moses parting the Red Sea. But Punga Cove was still hours away, so undeterred, we squished and squelched our way on to Miners Camp.
Miners Camp to Punga Cove and Mahana Lodge
We were now on the southern side of the Inlet and this was the most strenuous part of the Day 2 walk. We seemed to be trudging uphill through forest … a lot. There were tree ferns everywhere sprouting forth.
And little coves with private jetties.
It wasn’t only a sea of green. There were flowering shrubs. One which caught my eye was this one. Have no idea what it was but it had a lovely scent.
We were rewarded with lovely vistas over secluded coves, perfect for a lunchtime break as we made our way towards Punga Cove and our destination for the night, Mahana Lodge.
It was mid afternoon by the time we reached Punga Cove.We passed the DOC campsite at Camp Bay and then passed the Punga Cove Resort. We were tired and for a moment, I wished I had booked our second night here. But about another kilometer further on, Mahana Lodge awaited us.
Here, hosts John and Ann Martinmade us feel at home. As we were getting acquainted and selecting our dinner menu for the evening, we discovered that John and Ann had lived for a number of years in Kenn’s home town of Condobolin in central NSW. John had worked at the Agricultural Research Station undertaking research into rabbit control in the early 1970s. They remembered the town and its people very fondly. It’s truly a small world.
Our ensuite room in the lodge was spacious and luxurious. After a long, hot shower and wrapped in a super soft complimentary dressing gown, I enjoyed a leisurely afternoon tea. Ann’s wonderful home baking did not last very long I can assure you.
Dinner in the candlelit conservatory at the homestead was very special and memorable. We enjoyed artisan bread baked by Ann and mussels in white wine as our entree. We chose salmon from the sound, smoked by John to his recipe, over wild rice as our main course which was accompanied by the freshest salad. All ingredients had been picked that day by John from his extensive garden. Food when it’s local and super fresh always tastes amazing. We finished with profiteroles smothered in chocolate and a home made raspberry sauce. Not my usual camping fare I can tell you!
We would have liked to spend longer at Mahana Lodge: explore the cove on the free kayaks, complete some shorter walks around the inlet or watch the glow worms flicker in the creek behind the Lodge.
But the Queen Charlotte beckoned. Day 3, according to Ann, would be challenging yet deeply rewarding!
While many like us were on a mission to walk the whole track, we met others who only had the time to explore one section of the track before resuming their travels. The walk around Endeavour Inletwas definitely the easiest part of the Queen Charlotte. Walkers would definitely have time to explore as well as walk. So if the thought of day hikes of 20 plus kms is a little daunting, you can still immerse yourself in the New Zealand wilderness with this part of the walk.