The deadline for using our NSW government Stay vouchers was fast approaching. But where could we go for just a night or two that was only a couple of hours away? Urunga or Yamba sprang to mind but sometimes, when you live near the beach, you long for something different.
‘Why not visit Glenrock Gardens ,’ my friend, Gerda suggested, as we sipped our cappuccinos, one morning back in September.
‘And where precisely are these gardens,’ I queried?
‘Near Tenterfield. They’re quite famous but they’ve been closed for a couple of years due to Covid.’
Tenterfield, I mused would fit the bill perfectly. Situated on the New England Tableland and surrounded by national parks, the town is only around three hours drive from Byron. Of course, we had been there before but not for a couple of years. So, decision made and Gerda and Richard on board, Tenterfield and the gardens awaited.
Accommodation was readily available and for the most part, very reasonably priced. We chose to redeem our vouchers at The Best Western, Sir Henry Parkes, Motel.
Situated on the main street, we were able to leave our cars at the motel and leisurely explore this character filled town on foot. An added bonus was The Bohemian Tearoom, which was across the road from the motel.
After lunch, we sauntered through some lovely antique shops and explored Rotary Park. Tentefield’s streetscape was lovely: well maintained heritage buildings enhanced by council landscaping – on both sides of the main street, beds of red poppies and pansies greeted visitors.
The evening was closing in and the Commercial Hotel was chosen for dinner. Refurbished and making the most of its art deco interior, this pub serves up market pub food. Although we didn’t book, (a mistake) they did make room (at very small table) for us. However, that was a minor inconvenience as we really enjoyed our pre-dinner drinks in front of a comforting fire happily ensconced on comfy leather sofas and the food was tasty.
The following morning was relatively fine. As the Gardens didn’t open til 10am, we had time for a visit to the Tenterfield Saddlery, made famous by the Peter Allen song. The little shop was full of interesting material from Australia’s colonial past including local links to Banjo Paterson and ‘Waltzing Matilda’.
However, the gardens awaited. They are located a few kilometres out of town and I would recommend using Google maps or something similar to make sure that you don’t inadvertently take a wrong turning. The gardens really are a green oasis in the Tablelands terrain.
The 10 acre gardens are designed around a series of small lakes or ponds which obviously provide much of the water for the garden. You can imagine our surprise when we found out that entry into the gardens are free!
From the main house and the newly opened barn, the gardens sweep down to the ponds in a series of terraces. The dry stone walls are quite stunning and each terrace leads to something new.
The garden is designed to feature different plants at different seasons. When we visited , it was blossom time.
There is so much to explore at the gardens. The owners have added a secret garden, a nursery and the Barn.
Amongst all the shades of green, pockets of colour gleam. More often in shades of blue and white.
Alas all good things come to an end and it was time to make our way down the mountain to Byron. On our way, we drove through Lismore which is still very much in recovery mode after the devastating floods earlier this year. Let’s hope that the current La Niña leaves us on the Northern Rivers well alone.
Killen Falls used to be a local’s hideaway until Instagrammer’s revealed its charms to the world at large. What used to be a rough bush track down to the falls has been given a facelift by Ballina council. Away from the hustle and bustle of the coast, Killen Falls is still a lovely place for a short rainforest walk and a rockpool swim despite it’s popularity,.
Killen Falls is located between Byron Bay and Ballina and is very easy to find. This website has a very clear link to Google Maps and besides, the way is now very well signposted once you’re on Friday Hut Road.
But what makes this place so special?
Like many of the waterfalls in the Northern Rivers, the track to the falls leads you along a well marked and maintained track which is home to one of the last remaining remnants of the big scrub rainforest. But unlike some tracks, like Minyon Falls, for example, the Killen Falls track is short, relatively flat and can be easily accessed by all ages.
This first part of the track brings you to a viewing platform where you can look at the falls from above.
The track gets a little rougher after the viewing platform but is still very accessible.
The only difficult part of the track is the descent to the base of the falls and this has an excellent handrail.
The descent is so worth it. At the bottom, Emigrant creek is bubbling on its way.
And following the creek upstream, you come to the base of the waterfall complete with a rainforest pool you are allowed to swim in.
This is something you cannot do at many of the other waterfall sites such as Protestor’s Falls near the Channon. Even though I understand the necessity of preserving rare frogs and other creatures, there is always a sense of disappointment when you trek through the forest on a hot summer’s day and reach an idyllic waterfall complete with its own pristine swimming hole only to find you can’t take a refreshing dip in the crystal clear water. For that reason, Kenn and I tend to walk these tracks in winter.
And perhaps most importantly for many, a trip to the falls needn’t take too much time out of precious holiday hours. Killen Falls is located very close to the coast. It took us approximately 15 mins to drive from Byron to the falls along a very pretty road. The one kilometre return walk from the base of the falls is approximately 30 mins at ambling pace. Even factoring a picnic, a couple of hours would see most people done and dusted.
There is one downside to taking a trip to the Falls. The carpark at the Falls has only got a few spaces and in peak holiday season, you could find yourself parking a long way away from the falls. At this time, during Covid, we had no trouble at all but can well imagine the crowds at Christmas time.
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.
Autumn is a delightful time of year. Here in Byron Bay, it brings warm sunny days and cool evenings that invite you to snuggle down under a doona. While it is still warm enough to swim in the bay without a wetsuit, it’s the season for beach walking.
Lovely as Byron is at this time of the year, there is something missing. I can’t walk through drifts of red, yellow or orange leaves and breathe in the scent of wood smoke. I can’t see avenues of claret and golden ash trees or bright yellow poplars blazing against bright blue skies or taste the tang of early morning frosty air.
Time for a Road Trip!
And so, a couple of years ago, Kenn and I took to the Pacific highway in search of ‘that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.’ After a brief stopover in Sydney to catch up with family and friends, we headed south. Our first destination was Thredboin the Snowy Mountains, where we hoped to climb to the summit of Australia’s highest mountain, Mt Kosciuszko. Autumn was all around us as we stopped for brunch at the Magpie cafe in historic Berrima.
After a short stop in Jindabyne to gather supplies, we were soon settling into our delightful studio at Snowgoose Apartments in Thredbo. From our balcony we watched as the sun began to set behind the mountain and the mist started to rise. Yep, we were in “Man from Snowy River” country, ready for some high country adventures.
The following morning dawned as perfectly as one hopes a morning will dawn in the mountains. However, we had been warned that the weather can be very changeable on Mt. Kosciuszko, so we dressed accordingly: walking boots, merino thermals, waterproof jackets, gloves and beanies. And yes we did indeed resemble Yetis out for an afternoon stroll!
Unfortunately the main chairlift, the Kosciuszko express was out for maintenance and we had to take the Snowgum chairliftto the top of the mountain. This meant that our trek to the summit begun with a very, and I mean very, steep 500 metre climb to the beginning of the Kosciuszko walking trail. Bleating like an injured mountain goat, I scrambled over rocks and protruding snow gum roots until I eventually found myself looking up at the Eagle Nest Restaurant, ready to begin the real trek!
To protect the delicate, alpine environment, National Parks have constructed an elevated walkway for the 7 or so kms to the summit. This was a very pleasant, easy climb. We noticed that many of the small streams that meander across the plateau, had frozen over during the night and that there were still tiny delicate flowers and mosses snuggling between the rocks.
Soon we had to take off beanies, scarves and coats, it was so warm. And there was hardly another person in sight. We were alone, just us and the mountains and the sky. Coming to a fork in the track, we saw the sign for Charlotte’s Pass. A trek for another day?
Approaching the summit, the views in every direction were fantastic. Although there was no snow where we were, we could see the snow capped peaks of the Victorian Alps to the south.
Soon we were at the summit, celebrating with others and enjoying our picnic lunch.
An easy downhill stroll saw us easily meet our rendezvous with the chairlift and we enjoyed our half hour descent. The beautiful weather continued as next morning, we enjoyed the river walk which follows the Thredbo River and Golf Course.
Following the call of the road, we resumed our trip, stopping for morning tea at Lake Jindabyne.
Not only was the lake looking wonderful but there were poplars lining the shore.
Our road trip took us along the Snowy Mountains highway to Yarrangabilly Caveswhere we stopped for lunch and a swim in the thermal pool. Again, we would have liked to stay longer. Caves House, which has very competitive rates, looked very inviting. Although we have explored the caves before, we would have liked to do so again.
The beautiful town of Tumut awaited us. I knew that the town had just celebrated ‘The festival of the Falling Leaf’ so was hoping that the autumn colour I had been hankering for would still be on display. It was! As we strolled along the Tumut River Walk in the late afternoon, I couldn’t have asked for more.
But our road trip was not finished. From Tumut, we traveled to Cowra via Gundagai and Young. Here we were catching up with family and friends. We enjoyed a memorable lunch at the Cowra Breakout, a lovely coffee shop located in Macquarie St and perused the lovely shops nearby. Cowra, too is full of autumn colour.
A visit to the Japanese Gardens is particularly beautiful at this time of year.
That night, we enjoyed a special country dinner. My sister Jenny cooked the best roast lamb dinner I have tasted for ages. It was so tender and so full of flavour that I wanted to be like Oliver in ‘Oliver Twist’ and ask for more! It was of course, Cowra Lamb, a brand that is finding a lot of fans around Australia and overseas.
But all good things have to come to an end. It was time to return home. Usually the thought of the 1000 km plus drive would be a trifle daunting. But the countryside, as we drove from Cowra across the Central West and the Liverpool plains of NSW heading north, was just stunning. Full to the brim with mellow fruitfulness; shining with the colours of the fall.
Do you love Autumn too? We are planning to treat ourselves to another autumn break this year. We are hoping to visit the Southern Highlands or Northern Victoria. Northern Victoria is our preference. As well as having beautiful Autumn scenery in and around historic little towns like Bright and Mt Beauty, this part of the world hosts iconic bush destinations like the high mountain huts and numerous bike trails. But of course, all will depend on Covid restrictions or lack thereof of course. Maybe we’ll see you there.
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.
Sometimes serendipity comes into your life and truly memorable experiences occur. This was certainly the case with our stay at Eco Beach Resort or as it’s also known, the Ramada Resort, Eco Beach Broome. Although the resort appealed on so many levels: location, facilities and ethos, a stay seemed out of reach as my initial research placed it well over my accommodation budget. But then, just on a whim, I visited their website and noticed a wonderful deal on their glamping tents for my dates which was well within budget.
Wow, a bit of real luxury in the Kimberley overlooking the Indian Ocean. And it would be my birthday week! What could be better? Although I could have booked online, I rang the resort and booked in and picked up useful tips for getting to the resort which is about 130 kms from Broome.
Although we hadn’t opted for an ocean view tent, we were allocated a glamping tent which was just a few steps away from a wonderfully equipped camp kitchen and overlooked the waterlily lagoon.
I have to admit that aside from boiling some water, we didn’t avail ourselves of the camp kitchen. The resort has a wonderful restaurant, Jack’s Bar and Restaurant which overlooks the Indian Ocean. It was simply the most perfect spot for breakfast, happy hour and dinner. And the service was to die for. I will always remember how Justin went and found binoculars at the mere mention that Kenn was whale watching. Everyone was so helpful and genuinely kind especially Rebecca and Katrina on the front desk.
And as for watching the sunset!
I had only booked two nights, so we tried to fit in as much as we could. We absolutely adored spending time by the pool.
Then there was the beach and the ocean to explore. Just below the resort, on the beach are a number of beach shelters, complete with hammocks, where you can set up camp for a couple of hours and try your hand at paddle boarding or kayaking which are complimentary activities.
So, just for fun, I lugged a kayak to the ocean and took off, keeping to the shallows. I paddled and I paddled and I paddled!. But my kayak was obstinate and wouldn’t go where I told it to go! Eventually, I gave up, returned to shore and watched Kenn show me how its done from the comfort of a hammock. Still I have to say that swimming in the ocean there was beautiful. The water was so clear and a lovely temperature, warmer than the pool and like Cable Beach in Broome, very calm.
However, a highlight for us was the 7km walk to Cape Villaret, the southern most tip of Roebuck Bay. The wonders of the Kimberley coastline surround you as you wander along a pristine beach, spotting wildlife and exploring interesting landforms. The walk is best tackled at low tide if you don’t want to get wet.
Walking home, we noticed that the tide was very low and the sand became a mirror for the cliffs that line the coastline.
We also found time to walk for a couple of hours north along the beach. Even though there were lots of people at the resort, we hardly ever saw anyone else on our walks. I also found time to attend a yoga class. These classes are complimentary. I missed the more active morning class and attended the evening class instead. The resort does have a day spa but I didn’t have enough time to book in, unfortunately. Next time perhaps.
Eco Beach is a very, very special place. Very conscious of its ecological footprint, it is a haven of peace and tranquility and a wonderful place to experience some Kimberley magic. Look up their website, grab yourself a bargain and visit. You won’t be disappointed.
We loved our stay in Broome and wished that we could have stayed longer. From Windjana Gorge, the Gibb River Road is mainly bitumen so it only took us a few hours to reach Broome. We did stop for lunch in Derby but had plenty of time to find our Airbnb, Bridges on Jigal, and settle in for the next three nights. Our hosts, Franky and Jon were super helpful and while their home was beautifully styled and full of wonderful artworks, it was still super comfortable and most importantly situated in a central position with easy access to both Cable Beach and Roebuck Bay.
Following up on Frankie’s recommendation, we found ourselves in Chinatown that evening, enjoying a wonderful dinner at Mr Saigon. It was a far cry from what I had served up on the Gibb!
Next morning, saw us do several loads of washing, choose a new camping stove which the man in the camping store assured us would not blow up and purchase some pillows. Essentials sorted, we headed to Cable Beach to laze the afternoon away.
The water was lovely, not too cold but still refreshing and there were virtually no waves to speak of. Ideal for swimming. We hired an umbrella as well so that I could a laze around in some shade while Kenn sun baked.
Is there anything nicer than being on a beautiful beach, totally relaxed just listening to the sounds of the ocean and the seagulls? A couple of swims and a nap or two later, it was time for a beach walk.
But the sand is so fine that we found walking a reasonable distance a tad frustrating. Our feet kept sinking even into the hard sand so progress was slow.
The camel rides along the northern part of the beach at sunset are famous but while we watched we didn’t take one. We had had a very memorable camel ride at Uluru in 2015 and didn’t feel the need to repeat the experience.
The afternoon was drawing in and it was time to pack up and make our way to the Sunset Bar and Grill. It had come highly recommended by Kenn’s brother and partner, Wayne and Liz who had spent many an enjoyable evening here, watching the sun set over the Indian ocean on their trip around Australia. We found ourselves a great table, ordered some drinks and snacks and settled in to watch the show.
Morning found us enjoying a delicious breakfast at the Town Beach cafe which has a wonderful view over Roebuck Bay.
Of course, after breakfast, we had to explore Chinatown. It has a lovely ambiance and is very easy to walk around. I love pearls and had been looking forward to wandering through the myriad of pearl shops which showcase Australia’s wonderful South Sea Pearls. And they were wonderful. While I didn’t go crazy at Paspaley, Willie Creek or Cygnet Bay Pearls, I did manage to find something that was beautiful yet in my price bracket: a pair of mother of pearl bangles and a polished pearl shell to display them on.
There were also a few good souvenir shops and interesting alleyways to explore. Kenn was very patient as I browsed here and traipsed there and sometimes retraced my steps to buy that special little something for one of the grand kids.
After a quick lunch, we wanted to visit the museum to learn a little more about Broome’s history. We were driving round in circles, struggling to find it when we spied two teenage girls in school uniform walking along munching hot chips. Perhaps they could shed some light on our dilemma. We slowed down beside them, unwound the window and Kenn stuck his head out.
‘Excuse me, could you show us which street leads to the Museum?” he asked them.
The girls stared at us as if we were aliens. ‘What’s a museum?” one of the girls asked the other. Her friend replied, .””You know, a place where they keep dinosaurs and stuff, “giving us a hard look! Ah we teach them so well don’t we? The knowledgeable one then turned to us, pointed vaguely and instructed, ” I think it’s two streets down to the right,” and conversation ended, the girls strolled away.
We followed her instructions and there was a semblance of truth to her directions. The museum was two streets away but to the left not right. And it is really worth a visit. There is a significant collection of artefacts from Broome’s colourful pearling past as well as the restored sailmaker’s shed. There are very good video presentations as well. How exciting were the old Pearling days. Opening times vary according to the seasons so it’s useful to check their website.
Even though we had spent a couple of hours at the museum, we still had time to go driving on Cable Beach. You need a 4WD and they’ve make it very easy to access. There is even a designated place where you can deflate and inflate your tyres. We only drove about 10 kilometres or so as the tide was not perfect but it was still a great experience. There is something special about driving on a beach with all the windows down: the smell of the sea, the sounds of the waves and the feel of the wind in your hair.
Our craving for a bit of adventure satisfied, it was time to go back to the town beach to view The Staircase to the Moon. This is a natural phenomenon which occurs when a full moon rises over the exposed tidal flats of Roebuck Bay. The Staircase to the Moon only happens 2 – 3 days a month between March and October. Although we were in Broome one day early for a perfect viewing, we still got a taste of this natural wonder. Unfortunately, we missed the night markets, which are held at the same time.
Our perfect day in Broome came to a close with an incredible fish and chips at the Wharf restaurant which is located at the very tip of the port of Broome. There at their picnic tables overlooking the moon reflecting on the bay, we feasted.
Even though we had had a wonderful couple of days, we knew that we would like to return as there was still so much more to do and see in this wonderful town beside the Indian Ocean.
But Broome had one special experience waiting for us that I will share with you in my next post. A visit to the Ramada Eco Resort which lies about 100 kms south of the town on the southern most tip of Roebuck Bay. This visit was a real highlight. Hope you will join me.
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.
Located just 110 kms west of Kununurra, El Questro Wilderness Park was the first stop on our exploration of the Gibb River Road. We hoped that it would be wonderful and we weren’t disappointed. There was just so much to see and do in one place. (Admittedly a very large place: the park covers an area of over 700,000 acres in the heart of the Kimberley.)
We loved driving around flanked by the majestic Cockburn Range, exploring dramatic gorges and testing out the snorkling capabilities of our vehicle in the process.
We loved swimming under cascading waterfalls in beautiful rock pools, relaxing in thermal springs, picnicking besides waterholes and admiring beautiful sunsets.
El Questro has a variety of accommodation options to suit every budget. These are at three locations : Emma Gorge, The Station and the Homestead. Initially, we intended to camp over at the Station on a powered site in our tent. After all we were following in the footsteps of pioneers and were prepared to rough it a little. But after I’d booked, I noticed that El Questro was offering an opening of the season special: three nights for the price of two with buffet breakfast included for their upscale accommodation at the Station and Emma Gorge. Investigating further, the glamping safari tents complete with private ensuite at Emma Gorge really appealed.
We’d still be camping but with a few more mod cons. And surely I could put up with a little bit of luxury whilst in the middle of the East Kimberley Wilderness? Someone to make my bed, tidy my tent and fill my glass at happy hour? And who wouldn’t enjoy standing under their very own blissful rain shower while they washed away the rigours of the day while admiring the branches of a magnificent gum tree against a deep blue sky framed by towering red cliffs?
You guessed it, I cancelled the camp site at the Station and booked Emma! Part of the accommodation cost included the compulsory Wilderness Park Permit, the proceeds of which help with the maintenance of the roads etc within the park.
We reached Emma Gorge with plenty of time to walk the gorge and have a swim before we booked in. The walk involved a bit of rock hopping and scrambling as we made our way through the stunning gorge.
But it was so worth it. The final rock pool with its gentle waterfall was so perfect. The water was quite cold but very refreshing and when you swam under the waterfall on the other side of the pool, it was like being in a natural rain shower, nicely tingly. And of course floating around and gazing up at the majestic red cliffs and a perfect blue sky and knowing that you were in the middle of the Kimberley wilderness was special just by itself.
Back at the resort, we booked in and were thrilled with our tent. It was elevated, boasted a very comfortable queen bed, two single beds, outdoor furniture, a fan, basic tea making facilities and a very well appointed ensuite.. It was very private and had a wonderful view of the escarpment and the bush which was flood lit at night.
Next it was time to sample “happy hour” and dinner at the resort hub. There on the deck, we met fellow travelers from around Australia and the world. Most were travelling as part of tour groups but there one or two who were travelling on their own like us. Talk flowed as we sipped our drinks ensconced on super comfy sofas. And there were plenty of options to choose from on the a la carte menu for dinner. Yep, we were very happy campers!
The following morning we up early, keen to drive over to the station and explore Zebedee Springs and El Questro Gorge. Both were fabulous.
The walk into Zebedee Springs is through a Livistonia Palm forest which is thought to be unique to this area.
El Questro Gorge
Back in the Prado, it was time to drive to El Questro Gorge. We knew that the water crossing into the gorge was quite deep. Only vehicles with a snorkle were advised to cross. Needless to say, Kenn was excited by the prospect! Low range was selected and we sailed across with no problems. A few kms further on and we were at the start point.
This walk isn’t a circuit so we had to retrace our steps. And as is so often the case, the walk seemed so much easier on the return journey even if the drive through the creek was a little more problematical.
Managing to chug our way out of a deep hole, Kenn and I decided to have a look at Jackaroo’s Billabong which was on our way back to the main road. A cup of coffee and some afternoon tea was needed. I was so happy we did as this was a really beautiful spot.
The afternoon was closing in, so we headed home to Emma Gorge. We had just enough time for a quick swim in the resort pool and a rest on the sun loungers with our books before getting ready for dinner. A great way to end a perfect day. Could tomorrow be as good?
Chamberlain Gorge is regarded as one of the things not to be missed at El Questro. It is a 3 km long fresh waterhole surrounded by magnificent cliffs. But you could sail to the end of it in 10 or 15 minutes. So, since we had done the 55km Ord River cruise through a similar landscape in Kununurra a couple of days before, we decided to give the cruise a miss. But it is possible to get an idea what the gorge holds by driving to the boat jetty.
Having taken a look at Chamberlain Gorge and enjoyed a coffee break at the Station, we hiked through Amalia Gorge.
The lack of wet season rain had affected this gorge the most. We were there in early June and the creek was no longer flowing but a few waterholes remained. Despite this, it was easy to see why this gorge is a favorite with so many people. The walk along the creek is shaded and very beautiful and and normally there would be lots of private swimming spots to enjoy along the way. We spotted one couple swimming in a pool but we didn’t join them as the water looked a bit stagnant.
Then the path started to climb and at the end you had to shimmy around and through some pretty scary rock formations to reach the upper pools at the end of the track.
But again the effort was worth it. There is a little cascade of waterfalls and rock pools falling down into one larger pool which acted as the most marvelous mirror. And we had the place entirely to ourselves!
As we retraced our steps we were extra careful navigating the rock ledge. It was a lot harder going down than it was climbing up. But we did it! Feeling very chuffed with ourselves we drove back to Emma Gorge. It was our last night at El Questro and we had loved every minute. As we sipped our pre dinner drinks, there was a beautiful sunset.
El Questro does give the visitor a wonderful wilderness experience. And while every place in the Kimberley has its own unique beauty, what sets El Questro apart is that it is a microcosm of everything that the Kimberley has to offer
We had had three action packed days here but there was still so much that we could have done. More gorges to explore, more 4WD tracks to conquer, more lookouts to reach and perhaps even a helicopter flight or two.
In hindsight, much as I loved staying at Emma Gorge, a stay at the Station would have been more central to most attractions. As we had our own 4WD vehicle and we had filled up in Kununurra, we found that we didn’t spend much money at El Questro except on dinner and accommodation and these I felt were reasonably priced.
You could spend a great deal of money here if you wanted to complete all the tours and experiences on offer. Like everywhere in the Kimberley, the organised tours offered by El Questro are not cheap. But for many, they are the stuff memories are made of. If you are lucky enough to have unlimited funds, check them out on the El Questro website.
Now the real test was about to begin. The Pentecost River crossing awaited us in the morning the the challenge of the Gibb River Road beckoned. Join us as we bump and shake our way to Broome.
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.