Cape Leveque: a stunning unspoilt wilderness.

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.

Kooljaman at 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 .

The safe swimming beach faces north and is very protected. It was an unbelievable colour and so refreshing to wallow about in.
And after our swim we took a walk through a timeless landscape of sea, pindan cliffs and a shell littered white sand beach,

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.

There were quite a few spots like this around the resort where you could enjoy the view in comfort.
Some people drove their 4WD’s down to the beach but we preferred to walk and watch the sunset turn the cliffs an amazing shade of red.
Even Kenn began to blend in with the landscape.
I loved how even the sand took on sunset colours.
And of course like everywhere in WA, the sunset itself was incredible. Such an expanse of sea and sky.
Sunset viewing done, we returned to our campsite . Dusk was illuminated by the sweeping light from the lighthouse, another unexpected bonus. Just a few steps away was the restaurant and gift shop where bookings for all kinds of adventures could be made.

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.

We hadn’t booked anything before going to Cygnet Bay. We weren’t sure what we actually wanted to do besides have lunch. I suspect that as the season got busier, we mightn’t have got a table. However, there was lots of room for us and the food was delicious.
A bit of research would have been helpful as the tour we decided to do was tide dependent. We had to wait around for a couple of hours. And we would have known that we could have had a complementary swim in the pool. We hadn’t brought our swimmers alas.
Do you like how the horizon pool is exactly the colour of the ocean?

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 a wonderful evening; good food and good company. What more can you ask for? And it so just happened to be my birthday! Like I said earlier, serendipity!

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.

We were just one of five campsites situated on a cliff overlooking the bay.

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.

Who doesn’t love relaxing around a cliff side campfire,. enjoying the simple pleasures of camping in the outdoors as you take in a sunset?

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.

This is an Aboriginal community with an amazing church

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.

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Gibb River Road Adventure

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.

Negotiating this crossing without mishap, was what Kenn was particularly looking forward to. In this photo from Outback WA, notice the width of the crossing and the depth. This is what the crossing generally looks like after a normal wet season. The river can be 60 plus metres wide and flow very quickly. Late in the dry around September, the depth can be less than 50 cm and relatively easy to cross. But we were crossing in early June and adding to the challenge would be the sharp, stony nature of the crossing itself. We knew several people who had come to grief here and found themselves changing a tyre on the other side.
However what we found was virtually a dry, stony river bed. Kenn was so disappointed. On the plus side, we didn’t get a puncture. And as we crossed in the morning, we didn’t capture that iconic picture of the crossing with the Cockburn Ranges, rosy in the afternoon sun, in the background.
Instead, a little further on, close to the turn off to Home Valley, there was a lookout where we stopped. Still beautiful but not THE shot!
It was also here that I reached over the back to grab my pillow only to find that it was not there. Our super comfy latex pillows had gone missing in action! Oh well, every adventure has its challenges. I was sure we could improvise some item of clothing into a suitable head rest!

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.

The station is a welcome haven of green and the rustic building you can see in the background was the original homestead complete with an open air kitchen. We found out that there was only Optus reception but the manager kindly rang Emma Gorge for us and we were able to arrange to pick up our pillows on our return journey. Amazing! When we picked them up we discovered that they had even laundered our pillowslips! Outback hospitality!, got to love it!
There were lots of places around the large garden where you could enjoy a cappuccino and a picnic lunch. At this stage of our trip, I hadn’t realised what a luxury Lawn is in the Kimberley.
And they even had a children’s play area.

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.

If you camp at Ellenbrae, you get access to Sandy Beach Gorge. This was quite a long gorge and I wished that there was a kayak or two to borrow. But the water was lovely and there were no rocks so you could laze around very easily. It was quite a hot day, and the beach had very little shade. A sun umbrella would have been nice, but you can’t carry everything with you can you?
It was perfectly safe to swim across to the rocks on the other side.
However, the billabong which is accessed from Ringer’s campground was virtually dry. Such a shame as we could see that it would be an idyllic spot with water in it and so accessible.

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!

And as we watched the flames flicker, they told us how great the campground at Imintji was. Apparently it was relatively new with excellent facilities including free barbeques! We had intended to stay at Manning Gorge the following day, but as Imintji was just another 100 kms further. on, we decided to stay there. Our cooking problem for one night at least would be solved.

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!

The waterfalls at upper Manning Gorge, on Mount Barnett Station, off the Gibb River Road. This photo from Red Dirt Rentals gives you an idea of what we missed. I don’t think that there would have been this much water flowing over the falls though.

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.

We had this part of the campground entirely to ourselves. Just across the road was a lovely, grassed common area with a very spacious and clean amenities block and a covered camp kitchen complete with free electric barbeques. They also had some glamping tents for those a little short of time.
Certainly not as crowded as most places on the Gibb! A really good hot shower is one of the luxuries of life!

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.

The upper pools are surrounded by these wonderful rocks
And fringed by wonderful reeds.
The reflections were lovely and the water deep enough to float around in. And there were plenty of accommodating rocks to serve as a picnic table for afternoon tea.

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.

They created fairy houses and gardens on rock platforms and in tree nooks and we were treated to a special guided tour. And the fairies left them a little something in the morning! It was so delightful to see little ones so happy in the great outdoors needing nothing but imagination to be happy.

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.

You have to walk 750 metres to the other side and return the same way. At the entrance to the tunnel you have to clamber around some boulders before the tunnel opens up. Initially, you are walking on a sandy beach beside the creek but ...
there are residents keeping watch. At least five species of bats also live in the cave, including ghost bats and fruit bats, and every strange sound had me wondering if something nasty was about to drop on my head or snap at my heels.
In a few places, the tunnel roof has collapsed and a little light filters in. But for much of the time you are in complete darkness with only your torch to guide you
And the stalactites cling in strange shapes from the roof.
We did have to wade through some water. Luckily for us, the water was quite low. On the way through it was OK as we were following others but on the return trip, we were on our own and I went to the right instead of the left. The water was getting deeper and deeper and then I heard a suspicious sound. I backed out … very, very quickly. Kenn found the right path and we had no further dramas. I don’t know that I could have swam through the tunnel if the water had been higher.
On the other side, the creek opens up to form a lovely swimming spot. I did get wet but couldn’t get the image of the crocodile back in the tunnel out of my mind so didn’t linger.
Tunnel Creek is also where Jandamarra made his last stand. His story is very well documented here.

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.

As you can see, you can walk all the way through the gorge on sand if you wish. I loved the play of light on the rocks as the sun began to set.
The rock formations were highlighted by sunlight and shadow
But on the opposite side of the large pools, we were amazed by the number of freshwater crocodiles, sunning themselves or seemingly asleep in the water. Obviously we kept our distance.
Many were bigger than I thought they would be. As the sun set, they became more active. They were jostling for a good spot from which to try and catch a bat or two for supper when the bats leave their daytime caves and fly down the gorge to drink and feed. We didn’t get a picture of a bat being taken but in the gloom did witness some crocs find success. Nature at work. While you could feel sorry for the bats, there were thousands of them making their way down the gorge so maybe this was Nature’s way of keeping numbers in balance.

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.

We started at about 730 am as we didn’t know how much shade there was on this walk and didn’t want to get too hot. It was a great time as the birds were very active and it was a very pleasant temperature. The trail is not difficult and certainly didn’t take us four hours even though we were strolling along.

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.

Just a youngster judging by some of the monster specimens we had encountered.
The dark berry like things are the fruit while the flowers are at the end of the branches. Lovely against the sky.

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.

Eastern Kimberley Wonders: Part 1

Elephant Rock, Ord River

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 panoramic view of the Victoria River Valley with its soaring red escarpments.

A little further on, we came to the settlement of Victoria River and a closer encounter with Kimberley rocks and the Victoria River itself.

These were so much bigger in reality. My phone couldn’t do the landforms justice. Just a little further on, we passed some roadworks. We found roadworks to be one of the few places where we could get excellent Telstra reception while travelling between towns.

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.

There are a number of walks that unlike many others in the Kimberley are very accessible. We tackled the lookout trail which meandered through and over the domes.
As you can see the path is very well constructed. It led to a lookout where you could see some of the irrigation blocks of the Ord River scheme in the distance. An expanse of green in the savannah.
Looking up, we watched as the colour of the rock changed with the light. There had been a bushfire quite recently and many of the trees were still recovering. There is a much longer walk that follows the line of the rock formations that would be great to complete another time.

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.

Alongside the foreshore of Lake Kununurra, there is a delightful park and walking paths.
The lily pads of the Lily Creek Lagoon make this part of the lake very scenic
This Celebrity tree park has some wonderful trees including this one which had an amazing canopy. Many celebs have planted a tree including John Farnham, Her Royal Highness Princess Anne and Baz Luhrmann. I would happily volunteer my services but … need to get famous somehow. Might have left my run a trifle late.
And of course there was a Boab tree. But what a great Boab! This one actually had leaves, probably due its proximity to water.

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 stopped at the reconstructed Durack Homestead museum. A fascinating glimpse into the pioneering past
Can you imagine calling your 21 and 22 year old sons into your study and telling them that you think it;s time they did something useful … like droving 7250 head of cattle from Queensland to the Kimberley over country which didn’t have any roads or stock routes! It was only 3000 miles (4828kms) Mind boggling.

We then drove to Lake Argyle Resort, where we caught a glimpse of the vast Lake Arglye.

The infinity pool is a wonderful way to enjoy Lake Argyle.

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.

Just below the dam wall, the water is so clear that it takes on the colour of the vegetation surrounding it. And as we traveled down the river, the water in some light reflected the perfect blue sky. Apparently, the water of the Ord River is some of the purest in Australia.
It was fun to see how excited everyone was to spot a freshwater crocodile. They are a friendlier version of their big bad saltwater relations , but I still wouldn’t want to get up close and personal to one.
I loved the look of the reeds which lined the banks in the upper reaches. As we got closer to Lake Kununurra, the reeds were replaced by native trees and vines where wildlife flourished.
The tour also takes you up some of the creeks which feed into the Ord River. So peaceful and the reflections on the water, just beautiful.
As we got closer to Kununurra, the river flows between fabulous sandstone cliffs.
And the water was so still as we came into Lake Kununurra. Perfect reflections
The tour reaches Kununurra as the sun sets. We finished our fabulous day with dinner at the Pumphouse. Restaurant. We were amazed to find such an excellent menu so far away from the big smoke.

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.

Kimberley Road Trip

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.

Windjana Gorge, the Kimberley region, Western Australia

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.

All packed, only 15,000 kms to go!

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.

Mitchell is on the Maranoa River, which despite the drought is still flowing. Beautiful gum trees line the banks. And actually it rained a little overnight. The only rain we experienced on our trip.

We stayed in a delightful Airbnb, Serenity House which was a delightful little cottage on acreage on the outskirts of town.

A magnificent sunset was just the start of a delightful stay.

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.

Situated in the main street, not far from the river bridge, the Spa sources mineral rich water at 40 degrees from the Great Artesian Basin, a blissful temperature on a frosty winter’s morning. We swam, soaked and swam some more. Kenn did try the cold pool for a ‘refreshing’ change but not surprisingly, he didn’t have any followers. A wonderful way to begin our drive to Longreach.

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.

The lake was lovely and the rest area very well appointed.
And there was a very pleasant walking path around part of the lake which took you to a bird watching hide. If we had felt more energetic, the rest area also boasted a great outdoor gym.
And I couldn’t help but notice that the locals still know how to have a good time.

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.

This is an excellent museum. Lots of interactive features as well as great items from our pioneering past. There was an informative indigenous section and an art gallery.

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.

It is easy to envisage that there was an inland sea out there, millions of years ago. The kind of place where dinosaurs liked to hang out.
And at the entry to the museum, a replica of Matilda, one of the most complete dinosaur fossils to be found in Australia, is waiting to say ‘hello’.

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.

As you can see, the path is very accessible and follows the natural contours of the jump up. Surrounded by massive boulders and aromatic Australian bush, the dinosaur galleries give you a glimpse of life as it would have been during the Cretaceous Period, over 95 million years ago. The galleries include
The recreation of the billabong where Banjo and Matilda met their deaths. How the paleontologists can put the bones back together though is a mystery to me.
And further along, a little group of pterosaurs sits precariously atop a giant boulder. These were flying reptiles, members of the Pterodactylus family, not dinosaurs and definitely not the ancestors of birds or bats. I thought they looked a little grasshopper like but with big beaks.
And then there was the recreation of the famous dinosaur stampede found at Lark Creek. Hundreds of dinosaur footprints have been found and they believe that these little dinosaurs were running away from …
This … a big bad and hungry sauropod! I would run too.
And then there were these dudes. Just hanging out having a good time. They had a very fancy name: Kunbarrasaurus ieversi. I think I prefer cool dude.

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.

These beauties are waiting to be planted.

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.

I couldn’t capture it, but this bush was covered in butterflies.
I assumed that this was some kind of wattle tree
And even the grasses were lovely

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.

The dry grassland and the sky just seem to go on forever
And the road just keeps on going west all the way to the Northern Territory.

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.

However the sunset certainly wasn’t basic!

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 Homestead where 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.

The walk into the Springs is framed by these lovely palm trees. So lush in an otherwise dry landscape.
And the springs themselves are a lovely colour and are not crowded. It’s just you and nature.

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.

There are two main sections separated by a little waterfall. As we had Ilyssia with us, we stayed in the shallower, less occupied upper section.
This was an excellent option as we could float, swim or walk down the creek to the waterfall and we had this section virtually to ourselves.
After her swim, Ilyssia was ready for a nap while her mum and grandparents sampled the delights of a pop up restaurant in the adjoining park.

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.

All the colours of the rock reflected in the water! So beautiful.

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.

Tweed River Cruise



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.

This was our cruise boat. I liked how accessible it was. I noticed that one of the passengers was in a wheelchair and it didn’t pose a problem.

 


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.

There were yachts bobbing around
Houseboats for hire
And the prawn fishing fleet was in dock.

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.

I liked how these chairs were moveable so that you could follow the shade.

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.

He pointed out the repair to the boardwalk at Keith Curran Reserve. This boardwalk is one of those gems that unless you knew it was there, you wouldn’t know it exited. The walking skirts the inlet and finishes at a pergola draped in vines.

This gives way to an open grassy expanse overlooking a sandy beach. The walkway officially re- opened two days ago and Kenn and I can’t wait to explore it .

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.

The water was such a beautiful colour and always in the distance you could see the unmistakable silhouette of Mt Warning, the extinct volcano which dominates the landscape of the Tweed. The walk to the summit is a hard yet rewarding experience. The views on a clear day are amazing. But be warned. The indigenous people of the area call the mountain, Wollumbin meaning ‘cloud catcher’ and many including myself have begun the climb in sunshine only to reach the summit and find themselves surrounded by mist!
Sugarcane fields as far as the eye can see. Certainly an easy way to enjoy a delicious morning tea.
And a tea tree plantation.

We passed Stott’s Island which is classified as a floating island, as the river’s floods and tides have eroded the subsoil away. The island is anchored to the bed of the river by the roots of the large rainforest trees such as the Morton Bay fig in the centre of the photo.

Just before we arrived at Tumbulgum, we witnessed a bird of prey feeding from the back of the boat.

The eagles and the pelicans swooping down was wonderful to watch

Tumbulgum awaited. We had an hour to explore the village and enjoy a welcome drink at the pub while the crew prepared our lunch.

There are a couple of eateries, a gallery , a riverside walk and the pub. In the pub was a fascinating collection of photos from the pioneer days. The size of the cedar trees that were felled have to be seen to be believed.

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?

Byron Bay’s beautiful and peaceful Three Sisters’ walk.

Looking down at the incoming surf from the Three Sisters’ track, at Broken Head, Byron Bay

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.

Ilyssia loves hiking with her mum.  Perfect for a cat nap

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.

Initially, you enter a shady tunnel of greenery where
the lighthouse can be glimpsed through the trees, standing firm at the northern end of Tallows Beach
Even though it has been very dry, the Cottonwood canapy provides welcome shade as you wind around the headland and …
across little wooden bridges.

And then the rainforest comes to an end and you find yourself high on a grassy headland overlooking the Three Sisters which give their name to the track.
A sad but cautionary tale.
These little coves are easily accessible at low tide but the currents can be quite dangerous. It is a paddle and picnic spot for me.
There is always a lovely breeze here as well as stunning views.

From the lookout you can see Kings Beach in the background.
At low tide you can access the beach from the lookout otherwise access is via a steep rainforest track found along the Broken Head Nature Reserve dirt road. Although this is a clothing optional beach, it is a lovely excursion for cooler days.
And then its back to where we began.

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.

Maybe I’ll see you on the headland sometime soon.

O’Reilly’s Rainforest Magic

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Moran’s Falls, Lamington National Park

This Easter, Kenn and I spent a couple of days at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in 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.

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View from our balcony

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Our room was lovely. So peaceful and quiet. The timber finishes really complemented the natural surroundings.

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.

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These trees are relics from Gondwana times. Only the trees not Kenn!

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.

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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.

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Thoroughly relaxed, we enjoyed a wonderful sunset with pre-dinner drinks in the Rainforest Bar.

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.

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This was a fun way to see more of the area

And our guide was very informative.

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This is glow in the dark fungus! Only glows for two or three days apparently. 

Highlights included the short walk to Moran’s Falls and the visit to Luke’s farm.

 

After lunch, Kenn and I walked down to Elabana Falls. This time we didn’t make it past Picnic Rock as 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 tower and the Wishing Tree.

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The track winds down a fern encrusted gully

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to Mick’s tower, where the intrepid can climb five platforms to the top for a view of the canopy

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And then onto the Wishing Tree where you can sit on a log and make a wish in the hollow of the 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.

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The water was thundering down

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Just beautiful! 

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This was a quaint cafe just a couple of kms from Natural Bridge. Very enjoyable lunch.

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.