Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek

After departing The Bungle Bungle Ranges we decided we would do a long haul and head to Broome via a visit to Derby and a day trip to Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek. If we had embarked upon the Gibb River Road at El Questro, these remarkable landmarks would be our final stop before reaching civilisation once more. They form part of the 375 million year old, ancient, Devonian limestone reef that cuts through the Napier Range in the central Kimberley.

It is also the scene for the uprising of Jandamarra, a proud and strong indigenous, Bunuba man. Jandamarra was an Aboriginal warrior who became targeted by pastoralists as he endeavored to preserve his culture and his country. Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek became the backdrop of what was Jandamarra’s last stand and his eventual demise. These remarkable places are still of cultural significance to the Bunuba people today. Follow this link to read more of his story. (Jandamarra)

Tom and I visited both these places when we came to Broome last year and as one of the highlights of our trip, we were keen to show the kids. We had heard that due to the lack of monsoonal rain during the last wet season, Windjana Gorge was not as spectacular as in previous years. While this was probably true, the lack of water meant that the local population of freshwater crocodiles were confined to a very small surface area and were therefore very abundant.

The freshwater crocs of Windjana Gorge.

Windjana Gorge, although dry, was still a beautiful place to visit. Carved by the Lennard River, Windjana Gorge is over three kilometres long with 30 to 100 metre-high walls that rise majestically into the landscape. It is hard to believe that millions of years ago these landforms were under water and that remnants of that age are fossilised today in the rocks. It is a unique place that is worth a visit.

The dry creek bed of Windjana Gorge.
The imposing walls of Windjana Gorge.
Windjana Gorge was once a part of a Devonian Reef System, covered in a tropical sea.

We ventured further on up the road to Tunnel Creek. Now this was the part that Tom and I were particularly looking forward to. When Tom and I were here last we were ably lead by Elsa our tour guide through the meandering tunnel that has been worn out by water, but today it was just us and at this point there were no other people around. So we donned our head torches and headed into the darkness to embark upon the 750 metre underground trek, literally through the Napier Range. It really is a cool place and exploring Tunnel Creek would have to be some of the most fun that we’ve had together.

We clambour through the hole formed by the rocks at the entrance of the tunnel and are greeted with two beady little eyes. Lying on the banks lay a small, freshwater crocodile. Tom and I exchanged knowing glances that communicated ‘they weren’t here last time!’ While freshwater crocodiles are not known to be overly aggressive towards humans and are considered relatively harmless if left alone, I was a little apprehensive at the idea of wading through murky water in a dark tunnel filled with freshwater crocodiles. We allayed our fears and continued walking.

Climbing into the tunnel
Our friend the crocodile.
Heading into Tunnel Creek with our head torches on!

We continued walking into the tunnel. We passed another family heading out whose little boy informed us that they had counted 13 crocodiles. This was not making me feel overly confident!!

On we went!! That was until we came to our first of two water crossings. We all stopped, not sure how to proceed. We scanned the water and could identify at least two crocodiles. The water in front of us was really dark and murky!! I mean really, really dark and murky, with potential crocodiles and possible snakes and we had to wade about 20 meters in order to reach the other side. It seemed much easier and less daunting when Elsa was directing us!! Tom wasn’t any better suggesting that we turn around, trying to sell it to the kids that we had walked most of the tunnel anyway. The kids weren’t having a bar of it. ‘No! We want to go through!’ they all chimed in together. The kids were really not going to let us get away with turning back and each of them were determined to carry on. If there was ever a lesson to be had in building resilience and not giving up, this was it! “I’ve done this before, I can do it again,” I told myself. I walked into the water trying to find the shallowest path, making sure Tobias would be able to cross without getting drenched. The rest of the crew followed. We were all so elated at making it across. We gave each other a pat on the back and kept walking.

The roof has collapsed through to the top of the range near the centre of the tunnel.  Not much further on from this we discover some more wildlife that inhabit the tunnel. Looking up we come across a large colony of bats just ‘hanging out’. At least five species of bats live in the cave, including ghost bats and fruit bats. We sat and watch them for a while until we continued on through another water crossing (we were experts by now), past some more crocodiles and exited into the heat of the day. We stayed a while until we turned around and made our return trip.

Our walk through Tunnel Creek was a true adventure, a test of perseverance and a lot of fun.

A little light – Inside the tunnel where the roof has caved in.
Some local residents!
At the end of the tunnel.
The exit from the tunnel.
Taking time out for a photo.

Bungle Bungle Range : Purnululu National Park

After our stay in Kununurra we made the short 3 hour drive out to Spring Creek Rest Area where we planned to free camp and then spend the next day exploring the ‘Bungle, Bungle Range’. The couple of nights we spent here, essentially on the side of the road, have been amongst the most memorable.

When we arrived we could see some kids peering out from behind a big bus looking at our ‘rig’ as we rolled in, pondering the same question that our tribe always do – ‘Are there any kids?’ And of course there were. It did not take long at all until all the kids were playing and having a ball together. Tobias quickly invited himself on the bus and was merrily playing with the abundance of toys that were before him. Tom and I also made our introductions and before long we were exchanging our life stories and hopes for the future. After about an hour or so another family arrived back from the Bungle Bungles who were travelling companions to the first family that we had met earlier. That evening was spent chatting, sharing a few beers and the kids eating zooper doopers and roasting marshmallows. Isaac also befriended another family and found a kindred spirit amongst them. It was one big party!! But not too late as we had an early start in the morning.

The next morning we were up with the birds and headed into the Bungle Bungle Range, in Purnululu National Park. The road in is only accessible to 4WD and it takes a good hour and a half to two hours (depending on how you drive) to reach the the visitor centre and then another half hour to begin one of the walks.

The Bungle Bungle Range is amongst one of the most unusual and curious landforms. While this range has been there for millions of years it only became known to the broader populous in the early 1980’s when a documentary film crew began to take footage of this mysterious landform and bought this wonderous maze of beehive shaped domes to the attention of the world. In 2003 it was listed as a World Heritage Site for its geological significance and its outstanding beauty.

As we approach the range we are surprised at how much you can see from the ground. Whenever I’ve seen docos and the like on the ‘Bungle, Bungle Range’ the images are always aerial views. Seeing them from the ground however is definitely worth it and still spectacular.

The Bungle Bungle Range – A glimpse of the domes this range is famous for.

It is a really hot day the day that we go, reaching almost 40 degrees, even after we started out so early. It is hard going!! We don’t have ambitions to walk great distances so plan to walk to Piccaninny Lookout and Cathedral Gorge. First we head to Piccaninny Lookout. It is an easy walk, but we are all struggling in the heat. We make it however and are so glad that we persevered.

All ready to walk!!
Walking to Piccaninny Lookout
We made it to the lookout!!
A well earned rest.

We then made our way to Cathedral Gorge. This gorge is aptly named with a large, naturally occuring amphitheatre at its heart. The acoustics are awesome, with the kids and I trying to test them out without drawing too much attention to ourselves.

Walking into the gorge.
A natural amphitheatre.
Amazing colours and formations.
Such grandeur!

Kununurra and surrounds.

We crossed the WA/NT border and after getting rid of our fresh produce with a big ‘feast’ of apples and oranges, we were delighted to be reminded of the fact that by crossing the border we were in a different time zone and therefore 3pm was now 1.30pm. This meant that we now had more time to find accommodation for the night.

We found a playground (which is no mean feat in Kununurra) and decided that we would stay at Ivanhoe Village Caravan Resort. While ‘resort’ may be a little bit too strong a word, we certainly enjoyed our time there over the next few days.

Kununurra, the ‘gateway to the Kimberley’, was where we based ourselves to explore some of the little treasures of the area and while we didn’t get to do ‘The Gibb’ we decided we would still try to get out to El Questro – the first or last stop on the Gibb depending on which way you’re travelling. Originally we had planned to drag the caravan in and camp a night or two as it is a sealed road all the way to the turn off to El Questro itself. The advice online was mixed as to whether the road in was suitable for 2WD vehicles however we decided we didn’t want to risk it after we had done some damage to our van after visiting the Zebra Rock Mine. After visiting El Questro we were convinced this was the right decision although we wished we had more time to explore El Questro.

There is so much to do at El Questro with all budgets catered for. As our budget was $0 we opted for the ‘self guided’, ‘no frills’ experience and headed out to Zebedee Springs. No helicopter rides for us! We walked the 1.5 km walk from the carpark to be greeted by yet another oasis and warm inviting water. It was a beautiful spot for a relaxing soak.

Now supposedly the water was filled with leeches. This meant that I made a very quick exit after being informed of this fact and after seeing what I thought was a leech swimming in the water. The others were not deterred. The dip proved uneventful and everyone left without any little friends.

Enjoying Zebedee Springs – El Questro.

After Zebedee Springs we headed to El Questro Gorge. This involved a serious water crossing that made me very nervous as our 4WD does not have a snorkel which we were advised to have in order to make this crossing. Tom was fairly confident we could do it after observing a couple of other vehicles cross, so off we went. I anxiously held my breath and tried to think of a way to pay for any potential damage should the need arise as Tom edged his way across the water safely to the other side.

It’s deeper than it looks!!

On arriving at El Questro Gorge, I realised that the impending adventure of trekking into El Questro Gorge meant that we were not going to make it back to Emma Gorge in time. I was disappointed that we were going to miss out on visiting Emma Gorge, one may argue ‘the highlight’ of El Questro Homestead. “Oh well, I thought, just means I have to come back again!”

We only made it to the first pool. It was a long, tricky hour or so walk in, but again, we felt like we had the place to ourselves, only coming across a couple of other groups of walkers. We had a few rocks to jump over to avoid getting wet which is always a hit with the kids. Both Tobias and Matisse were casualties but they continued on.

El Questro Gorge
Taking up the challenge – that water is icy!!

The other highlight of our time in Kununurra was our trip out to Lake Argyle. We decided we would just take a day trip out to Lake Argyle to spend the day at the much talked about ‘infinity pool’. It was definitely one of my favourite days of the trip.

We started the day with 8.30 am mass and then jumped in the car for the hour drive out to Lake Argyle. Lake Argyle is a manmade, freshwater lake in the heart of the rugged, Kimberley outback. The lake was formed by the damming of the Ord River that occured in the 60’s in order to provide irrigation to the remote Kimberley region and to harness the rains of the wet season. Lake Argyle is the major storage reservoir of the Ord River. This lake is huge. At normal supply it has 18 times the volume of water of Sydney Harbour. If it were to flood, it could fill the harbour 70 times.

Once enjoying a picnic lunch overlooking the lake and having a little drive around, the infinity pool at Lake Argyle Caravan Park was next on our agenda. This was fun and truly spectacular. The views really were amazing and the photo ops one in a million!!

Lake Argyle Infinity Pool – Family shot (minus Tobias) who was asleep!
A great place for a swim!

After a beautiful day relaxing by the pool what could be better than happy hour accompanied by some mellow tunes. We were lucky enough to listen to the very country sounds of resident singer/songwriter Steven Case and enjoy a very welcomed drink on the lawns of the caravan park watching the sunset over Lake Argyle. Oh! Happy Days!! What’s more, the kids happily joined us, finding their own space on some towels and chilling out to the ‘outback grooves’.

Watching the sunset over Lake Argyle.
Enjoying ‘Happy Hour’ and listening to some tunes!

What a happy day! We all drove home with such a feeling of contentment and joy. It was a day we didn’t want to come to an end but we looked forward to what awaited us next and where the road may take us.

Zebra Rock

We left Kakadu bound for Western Australia. I was particularly excited to be homeward bound. We decided not to tackle the Gibb River Road in the end because while Tom and I were keen to try it, we realised that the kids were not going to cope with the demands of the Gibb, nor were they going to appreciate the beauty of the region, as well as the fact that we were not going to be able to stock enough food for us all. Tom and I have come to realise that waterfalls, gorges and swimming holes are to Australia as churches are to Rome and our kids were reaching saturation point.

So we headed west not really sure what we were going to do. We had hoped to spend a few nights at the Zebra Rock Mining Camp Stay but they had closed for the season. The retail shop however was still open (just) so we braved the corrugated road in to find out exactly what zebra rock is as I had never heard of it.

Basically it is an unusual rock, found only in a small pocket of the world on the border of NT and WA, that has unusual patterns that resemble that of a zebra. It is pretty cool actually. Check out the website: Zebra Rock Mine.

The kids were invited to polish their own piece of zebra rock and were encouraged to take the rock home and promote its preservation.

I was lucky enough to pick up a bargain pair of earrings.

The mine also had a few local friends that the kids were introduced to.

Some of the locals.
Polishing their zebra rock.

Kakadu

As we drove out of Darwin I had a great sense of anticipation and excitement driving towards Kakadu. I must say first off that Kakadu has been for me the highlight of our trip so far. Interestingly there are a few naysayers out there that have coined the term ‘Kakadon’t’ because of the over commercialisation of the park and are of the opinion there are better places to see in the NT. While that might be true, I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Kakadu and would recommend it to those exploring the north.

I had put together a very well planned itinerary for our time there as the anticipated 7 or 8 days we had originally thought we would spend in Kakadu had whittled down to 4 or 5 days. We ended up spending 5 nights but it so easily could have been longer. There is so much to do!!

We decided to break the trip into two parts. The first part of our time would be spent at the northern end of the park at Merls Campground and then the second couple of days were yet to be decided. We arrived at Merls around lunch time and as the peak tourist season was coming to a close we had our pick of campsites with only two or three other campers occupying other sites. We planned to go to the guided ranger walks at Ubirr Rock that evening, but not before we made a quick trip to the Visitors Centre.

Our visit to Ubirr was both informative and transformative. Ubirr is particularly known for its Aboriginal rock art but it also has amazing views over Kakadu. The beautiful landscape once again captured my imagination with the richness of the indigenous culture and their love of country and story furthering my interest in this ancient people. The ranger was able to impart a real wealth of knowledge and an obvious love and respect for the land.

The view of the setting sun from the summit of Ubirr rock is absolutely stunning but unfortunately Tom had taken Tobias back to the car and the camera along with him. This being said, photos never do the experience any justice so it will just have to remain etched in my memory.

Listening to the Ranger and exploring the rock art at Ubirr.

We headed back to our campsite and for the first time since beginning our trip we could not eat outside because of the mozzies!! They were vicious!! Matisse in particular cops it. The next day, although we took every precaution to stop her from being bitten, we were able to play dot to dot on her legs, poor poppet!!

On the agenda for our second day was Nourlangie. Nourlangie (Burrungkuy) is one reason why Kakadu is World Heritage-listed for outstanding cultural values. This place holds significance because it documents environmental and social changes in the region from 20,000 years ago to the first contact with European explorers reflected through rock art. There are layers and layers of art etched one upon the other. For the traditional owners the act of painting is itself the most important thing and therefore the newer paintings replace the old.

Nourlangie (Burrungkuy)

On our way into Nourlangie we also stopped in to Jabiru to pick up some supplies and to try and get some coverage in order to make some phone calls. Jabiru has an interesting history. It is a township in the world heritage listed Kakadu, yet was established as an uranium mining town. It is a unique juxtaposition. The mine is actually due to close in 2021 and Jabiru has become a bit of a ‘watch this space,’ with the NT government planning to invest millions in the area to ensure the towns survival and to improve tourism.

In the afternoon we went to visit Cahill’s Crossing. This is a water crossing into Arnhem Land that is synonymous with saltwater crocodiles. So off we went croc spotting. There were some who are much braver than I fishing off the rocks as five or six (visible) crocs lurk about. We all stood well back and observed from a very safe distance. It was also a little sobering to see these creatures at such close a distance in their natural habitat.

Croc spotting at Cahill’s Crossing.

Who knows what is lurking under that water!!

The next morning we packed up and headed to Cooinda Lodge. Cooinda was a find!! They don’t charge for kids (always a winner in my book), they have a great resort style pool, they have hot showers and they have a nightly ‘happy hour’ with half price drinks, What’s not to love?! We also ended up with a fantastic site. I was in a happy place and so were the kids!

Our first day at Cooinda was spent doing…well…not much. We sat by the pool, the kids swam and played at the playground and Tom and I partook in ‘happy hour’. The kids were able to make some friends with other kids who were also doing the ‘travelling thing’. Isaac in particular met up with his friend Luke who he has been bumping into ever since Uluru. This would be the last opportunity for them to play however as we were heading west and they were heading east to Cape York. It is amazing how many families are on the road. We have made friends with lots of families from all walks of life who are trying to take a break from the busyness of life and slow things down, all with their own reasons as to why they have decided to hit the road. It has been nice meeting and chatting to people along the way.

The next morning we headed out on the Yellow River Sunrise Tour. We spent two hours exploring the wetlands of the South Alligator River, a definite must while visiting Kakadu. The river system, the largest in Kakadu, is home to a diverse range of birdlife (over 60 species of birds) and other wildlife (buffalo and crocodiles) and is made up of extensive river channels, blackswamps and floodplains.

Sunrise on the Yellow River Sunrise Cruise.
Some of the wildlife of Kakadu.

The sunrise tour was then finished off with a buffet breakfast back at Cooinda Lodge. Seriously good!! What a great way to start the day and now that we had been well fed we made our way to Maguk.

Maguk waterfall and plunge pool are a wondrous sight to behold. Not only because of their pristine beauty but also because of the arduous trek you have to make to get there you are so glad to finally reach them. Maguk falls lies within the Maguk escarpment and Arnhem Land Plateau that toogether make up the stone country. It is mostly comprised of ‘Kombolgie sandstone’ and has been dated at 1.8-1.6 billion years old. The plateau runs for approximately 500 kms.

To access Maguk you need a 4WD. Once arriving at the carpark there is then a moderate walk to get to the plunge pool through a monsoon rainforest. It was hot and it involved a bit of rock scrambling and coaxing of Tobias, but we made it in. We only swam in the bottom pool but the kids had fun jumping off rocks and swimming out to the falls.

Amelia jumping off the rocks.
Isaac having a go too!
Maguk Falls.

Our final, big adventure in Kakadu was Jim Jim Falls. This was one of those epic moments that you are so proud of yourself for having achieved. Whoever writes the signs or figures out the walk gradings for NT Parks, I have come to the realisation, must be delusional. I learnt that I should never trust those silly signs and instead I would read the time suggestion and then add at least an hour or two! Nothing about Jim Jim was easy or ‘moderate’. It was a 4WD track in and then a tough, hot walk into the plunge pool which at times involved leaping between scalding, hot, boulders while carrying a 3 year old, but it was totally worth it. Tom and I marvelled together at the remoteness of this place and how we felt blessed at being counted among the few who had been lucky enough to visit. Getting to Jim Jim required an adventurous spirit and at the end of the day we all felt like we had achieved something worthwhile, the kids included.

We met a lovely couple and their family who happily took a family photo for us.
The amazing oasis of Jim Jim Falls.
All tuckered out after a big day adventuring,

All aboard for Darwin!

Next stop, Darwin. Our original plan was only to spend a night or two in Darwin, but our plans changed which meant we ended up spending about 10 days hanging out in Darwin. For some of this time Tom headed back to Melbourne, so I was left to explore Darwin with the kidlets.

Really, Darwin is just another big town. It has all the same things any major centre would boast, including numerous McDonalds and I am ashamed to say that we actually frequented this establishment a little bit when we were in Darwin as it was hot and they serve up $1 slushies. If anybody knows me you will know that letting our kids have slushies never happens!! But I was desperate for air conditioned comfort and coffee and our kids thought they were in heaven!!

We found a caravan park that was not too expensive and luckily had a pool in which they could swim!! This in the end became the favourite pastime for our kids during our stay in Darwin and all the kids showed great improvement in their swimming abilities. Amelia and Isaac learned to dive and Matisse and Tobias became more and more confident in the water.

Matisse jumping in the water.
Preparing to jump together.
Isaac doing a belly flop – deliberately!!

A visit to Darwin is not complete without a trip to Mindil Sunset Markets held every Thursday and Sunday during the dry season. Yum!! Yum!! With over 200 speciality food stalls there was food a plenty and although we blew our food budget it was worth it!! The other reason to go to the markets is not just to taste the food, but also to see the sunset on Mindil Beach, although we nearly missed it because we were too busy chatting to some new friends. We focussed our attention just in time and managed to get the obligatory family photo.

A beautiful NT sunset on Mindil Beach.

The Mindil Market also saw Isaac finally having a go at trying to crack a whip. Isaac has been desperate ever since our visit to Little Roper Stock Camp in Mataranka to try his luck at wielding a whip.

Such determination!

Our days in Darwin were spent engaging in a whole wide range of activities. We went to visit a school, we visited the Martin de Porres Aboriginal Mission, we explored the Botanical Gardens, we went to the wave pool in the CBD, we frequented the free water parks, we visited a crocodile park and we looked through the aviation museum that housed old war planes and other aviation equipment.

The other highlight were the water slides that we got to play on!! Seriously cool!! And free to boot!! The other great thing was that seeing it was term time there was no one there (other than other TAWKers). We just got off and ran back up to the top and got to do it again!

Sooooo much fun!!

The Northern Territory Museum was also of interest and Tom and I particularly enjoyed the display on Cyclone Tracy that devastated Darwin during the Christmas of 1974. The 5 metre ‘salty’ nicknamed ‘Sweetheart’ was a winner with the kids along with other preserved animals, particularly the creepy crawlies! The kids also really enjoyed the interactive kids space and even I got in to the spirit of it painting up a storm!!

It would have been nice to have gone to more of the sites around Darwin that delved more deeply into the impact that the cyclone had on the city. Similarly we would have liked to have explored a little more about the bombing of Darwin Harbour during WWII. It all costs money and the kids really didn’t have it in them! Oh well, Se La Vie, next time.

Hard at work in the children’s interactive space!!

Litchfield National Park

After Edith Falls we headed to Litchfield National Park. Litchfield, like all the national parks in the Northern Territory had lots to explore and we had to make decisions about what we would do! We were camping in the national park at Florence Falls. Florence Falls was only a short walk from our campsite, so as it was a steamy afternoon this was our first stop.

While Florence Falls was a great place to swim and the kids did in fact make the trek out to the falls, the most fun was had with the kids amusing themselves scrambling through the rocks and trying to dam up the trickling river. This really captured their attention for the afternoon.

Our ever creative Matisse also came up with a wonderful imaginary world where our blue towel represented the sky, the green towel the land and our swimming paraphernalia representing a whole array of farm animals. Thongs became pigs, sheep and cows. A drink bottle became the farmer and the goggles and noodles something else! I love it when the kids are at this type of play and they use whatever is at hand to enter their own world.

They following day we kicked the 4WD into action and went exploring off road. We ventured into ‘The Lost City’, a remarkable series of sandstone rock formations that seem to herald a lost civilisation and evoke a sense of intrigue and mystery. The kids started telling stories of prince and princesses and magical curses that foretold the destruction of the city.

An illusion of a lost civilisation!
Exploring ‘The Lost City’.
Sandstone rocks formed by thousands of years of rain and wind erosion.
Having a little rest!!

After we explored The Lost City we moved on to Wangi Falls. We arrived in time for a late lunch and a long awaited swim. Even I got in the water!! I might add I had to swim past about 19 orb spiders innocently lurching at the water’s edge. While I didn’t swim out to the falls, the others once again did!!

Heading for the falls!!
At home in the water!

Our final stop, Buley Rock Pools. We wish we had more time to explore this fun little spot but Darwin was calling. The kids had a great time jumping into the water and climbing up the little waterfall. We got some great photos of the kids mid air!!

Getting ready…
,,,and go!!
Not to be outdone!