14/08/16 The next leg of our overlanding will take us through to Kununurra in the far north-eastern corner of Western Australia, via the Great Northern Highway. This section of road forms the western end of the Savannah Way, Australia’s Adventure Drive that extends from Broome on the west coast to Cairns on the east coast in Far North Queensland.
From Roebuck Plains, our next stop was the small town of Derby, 185kms to the east and north on the edge of King Sound. On the way, we noticed a few boab trees in the bush and very soon many, many more, all looking like upside-down trees with their branches bare of leaves at this time of year. It’s apparently difficult to age boab trees as they generally become hollow making it impossible to count growth rings, but the larger ones are believed to be around a thousand years old. Derby is noted for the boab trees lining the town streets, and also for having the highest tides of any Australian port, with an 11m tidal difference.
The day after arriving, we left the van in town and headed out along the sealed section at the start of the Gibb River Road to Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek. The rocks of the Napier Range that include these features were very different from other ranges and gorges we’d seen. Instead of being purely geological in origin, they originate from ancient barrier reef systems 300 million years ago when the area was under the ocean.
Entering Windjana Gorge itself was via a narrow crevice in the massive rock wall looming high above. The sheer walls of the gorge and surrounding range, some up to 100m high, were reminiscent of an ancient ruined fortress – very Castle Black-ish. Di and I walked through the gorge along the wide sandy river bed of the Lennard River, mostly dry but for a long deep waterhole running along below the cliffs on one side. And sunning themselves on the sandy bank and rocks were about 70 or so freshwater crocs. These guys were obviously very used to tourists as we were able to get within a couple of metres of them. Could have gotten closer but I didn’t like the way the big one was smiling at us.
Tunnel Creek, about 30kms further on, was spectacular. From the outside, you would hardly know anything special was there. It just looked like a wall of rock. After following a short path and working our way among and over a jumble of large boulders at the small entrance, we entered a cathedral-high chamber, lit by sunlight sneaking through fissures in the rocky entrance. We both had one of those “Woh!” moments. The air was immediately much cooler than outside, and the water of the creek cold and exceptionally clear from filtering through the limestone rock. We walked the 750m distance of the cave, wading through water up to knee-deep in some sections and across sand banks in others. With no sunlight entering beyond the entrance, it was pitch black throughout the spacious cave except for a section of collapsed roof that permitted light and bats to enter. Di wore a head torch and I carried a handheld spot light to see the amazing limestone features created by water dripping from stalactites on the cave ceiling and walls. It was fortunate no-one else was around on the initial walk through, allowing us to appreciate the quietness of droplets plip-plopping into the water. At the far end of the tunnel, the creek exits the range through a wide cave mouth. We followed the creek a short way and came across an aboriginal rock art gallery under an overhang in the cliff. Walking back through the cave, the spotlight illuminated two pink pinprick eyes of a big freshie floating in one of the wading sections. It was a fun walk and very interesting.
Back in Derby that afternoon, we got into a grilled barramundi dinner at the jetty café with a backdrop of the sun setting into the sea beyond the jetty. Life’s tough but we do our best to persevere…
“Wisdom is like a boab tree; no one individual can embrace it” – African Proverb