Wild Adventures!

~ 14 days from Broome to Darwin with Kimberley Wild

We don’t usually plan our travels in great detail, in advance. We have a general idea, and then research places as we go, talk to people we meet along the way, and get ideas. We don’t usually book organised tours either, but in this particular case, we realised that our complete lack of knowledge of the area and the wilderness, meant that if we tried to do it on our own, we would probably die!

Boab tree prison
Boab tree prison

We started our travels in Australia in Sydney in January 2016.  As we continued to drive clockwise around the country, we met and chatted with various people, several of whom strongly recommended we go to the Kimberley region, which is a remote, sparsely occupied region in the far north of Western Australia, bordering onto the Northern Territory. As we started to consider this, we read about the rivers, the rocky gorges, the hidden ancient rock paintings, and the wild and stunning beauty of the region, we felt we must try to experience it. We looked into renting a 4WD vehicle and doing it by ourselves, but learned pretty quickly of the serious dirt roads, river crossings complete with crocodiles, the need to carry water and petrol. Instead of risking death-as-clueless-tourists, after some research we booked what turned out to be a fantastic guided and provisioned 14 day drive from Broome to Darwin by Kimberley Wild.  (We paid the full and fair market price for our trip. Not cheap, but excellent value.)

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Nathan picked us up at dawn in his purpose-built 4WD bus, and we set off! Our group of around 18 people were mostly our age, or even a little older, but most of them were die-hard campers and hikers and had no trouble at all with all the activities that Nathan had planned for us.

As we journeyed through the Kimberley, we began to see the stately boab tree.

~ From Outback Australia:

“The Australian boab tree (Adansonia gregorii) is related to the Madagascan and African Adansonia species known as baobabs. Like its relatives it is sometimes called a “bottle tree”, but we locals refer to the trees as just boabs.

“There are two theories about how boab trees arrived in Australia. One says the seeds have floated here from Africa and spread from the coast. The other theory suggests boabs might have survived from the time when Africa and Australia were both still part of one continent, the ancient Gondwana, 65 million years ago.

“A mature boab tree is a sight to behold. Though not exceptionally high, up to 15 metres, they appear huge. The name bottle tree relates to the swollen trunk that can reach a massive girth of up to 20 metres.

“Every boab tree is unique. They have character and personality as you would expect of such an ancient creature. Some individual boab trees are 1500 years old and older, which makes them the oldest living beings in Australia, and puts them amongst the oldest in the world.

“Aboriginals used the giants as shelter, food and medicine. For the white settlers they served as easily recognisable land marks and meeting points, and not to forget as impromptu prison cells.”

~ From Outback Australia

Boab tree prison

 

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Kimberley Wild provides 2-person tents, swags (more about those later!) and sleeping bags. The back of the bus was carefully fitted out with fridge, freezer and plenty of eski-storage chests. A good range of fresh, frozen and tinned foods were packed up ready for the coming two weeks. Our friendly and easy-going group soon worked out a casual rota system, with everyone pitching in to prep, cook and clean up our meals, which were cooked over an open camp fire, and eaten under the stars.

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Nathan worked extremely hard, driving for hours most days, telling us about the geology and history of each area we drove through, and sharing his very wide-ranging knowledge of the local plants, animals, landscape and Indigenous peoples. We covered vast distances, so of necessity there were long driving days. The bus seats were reasonably comfortable, the a/c worked, and the windows were huge, allowing us wonderful views of the scenery we went past. Long driving alternated with two night stays in some places, so we really had a chance to explore the area.

Frilled Lizard at Mount Elizabeth Station
Frilled Lizard at Mount Elizabeth Station

Many of the hikes had the promise and temptation of a refreshing swim in a water hole or river at the end, so we strapped on our shoes, slapped on our hats, loaded up with water bottles and cameras, and set off each day to see the Kimberley!

(click on photos to view full-size)

(click on photos to view full-size)

We were travelling in May, which was right at the end of “The Wet”, and so the first couple of days’ plans had to be adjusted, due to flooding. The first day was longer than planned, as we had to work our way round flooded dirt roads, to our alternate camping ground at Mount Barnett. Dusk was falling as we wrestled our tents into submission, and learned about swags.

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We’re Brits, what do we know about swags?! Apart from the song… “once a jolly swagman…” etc! Turns out a modern day swag is a clever contraption. It’s basically a large sturdy canvas cocoon, with zips around the sides. There’s a 2 inch thick foam mattress inside, and some of the fancy ones come with a built-in collapsible mosquito net, so you don’t even need a tent. The whole thing folds and rolls up tightly with straps, so you can hook it on your rucksack, or toss it in the back of the bus. If it’s cool at night, a sleeping bag fits nicely inside, and of course you can adjust the amount of warmth and weather protection with zips.

We set up camp, and prepped and ate our first dinner under the stars, and slept the sleep of the long-travelled!  The next morning we were thrilled to see a beautiful orb web between the trees where we were camped.

(click on photos to view full-size)

(click on photos to view full-size)

Our hike on the Mitchell Plateau to Mitchell Falls gave us some incredible scenery, with stunning views of rocks, waterfalls, flowers and pools. After finally reaching the top of the falls, we enjoyed a couple of hours relaxing and swimming in the pools. It was a beautiful hike, but rather challenging, so I was glad we had the option of taking a helicopter back down to our campground. Also it gave us the opportunity to see the landscape from a different perspective.

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We stopped at Munurru to see two groups of ancient rock paintings. (Click here to read more). The isolated area was quiet, with just occasional sounds of bird calls and a light breeze. We walked amongst the rocks, and scrambled up and down to see paintings. Some have been interpreted, with the assistance of locals who still live nearby. The ochre, white and black colours were stunning, and we tried to understand the human, animal and spirit figures depicted here. There are burial sites, which the local Indigenous people have requested not be viewed or disturbed, but there is one site open to public viewing, which we approached with quiet respect.

(click on photos to view full-size)

(click on photos to view full-size)

(click on photos to view full-size)

En route to  El Questro Wilderness Park, we met two groups of people, with such wildly contrasting lifestyles, who equally loved the land they live on.  In the morning while we stopped to fill up the bus with fuel and water, we got chatting with a small group of Indigenous Australians. One couple we talked with explained that he was from Salt Water, and she was from Fresh Water. They told us they liked living in the bush, they can hunt, can look around and explore. Better than being in a town, go shopping, go sit in the house, do nothing. They seemed interested in us, and interested in talking about their lives a bit. They were travelling with three small children, north to the coast, for a family gathering.

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Later that morning, as we continued our 4WD way along the dirt Gibb River Road, Chris spotted a sign for “cream teas and fresh scones” – in the middle of the Australian Outback? Nathan didn’t need too much convincing to take the unscheduled turn off, where we ended up at Ellenbrae Station.  In Aussie-speak, a station is a large farm or ranch, in this case a million acres (bigger than Suffolk, and about the size of the US state of Delaware).  The young couple who managed the station for absentee owners enjoyed living there, but because it’s such an isolated area they offer cream teas to lure in visitors and give them other people to talk to! In the wet season, the only person they see is the pilot who does the weekly mail-drop.

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Driving on the unpaved Gibb River Road, we made several river crossings, including the much-photographed Pentecost River crossing:

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We travelled on, towards the endlessly photogenic Bungle Bungles.

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The Bungle Bungles are an extraordinary region of sandstone rocks in the Purnululu National Park.  The locals of course have always known about this region and the amazing rock formations, but they first came to the notice of the outside world in 1983.  The sandstone formations are the results of sediment laid down in layers, and then uplifted to form mountain ranges. Weathering and alternating heat and freezes has caused the distinctive shapes we see today.

“The dark layers in the sediment/rock have a higher clay content and hold the moisture better. They support cyanobacteria (primitive organisms, previously called blue-grey algae). The bacteria only grow on the surface, a few millimetres into the rock. But that’s enough to form a protective outer layer and prevent erosion. The lighter coloured layers have less clay, are more porous and dry out quickly. Cyanobacteria can’t grow here and without the protective coat the surface is exposed to ‘rusting’. Oxidisation of the iron in the sandstone gives the range the beautiful orange colour.”

The name Purnululu, meaning sandstone, was the name given to the area by its traditional Kija custodians.

(click on photos to view full-size)

(click on photos to view full-size)

We visited the incredible Ord River irrigation scheme at Lake Argyle. There are of course conflicting views as to whether the damning of the Ord River was a good thing or a bad thing.  Unfortunately we weren’t there long enough to gain the information to form our own views.

There is a great deal of conflict and discussion of human impact on the entire Kimberley region.

It is however, spectacularly beautiful.

(click on photos to view full-size)

(click on photos to view full-size)

(click on photos to view full-size)

We continued on into the Northern Territory, and went to Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge) a river and gorge complex, which ebbs and flows with the wet and dry seasons. We very much enjoyed a cruise through two of the beautiful gorges, complete with dreamtime stories:

and history:

from our local Jawoyn guide.

Our guide also told us about the geology of Nitmiluk:

It was still too early in the dry season for all the salt water crocodiles to have gone, so we didn’t swim or kayak!

Our guide told us about the freshies who live here year-round, and how the gorges are checked for salties at the end of each wet season:

(click on photos to view full-size)

(click on photos to view full-size)

It was a great trip, we saw so much of the wild Kimberley, thanks to Nathan and Kimberley Wild.   (We paid the full and fair market price for our trip. Not cheap, but excellent value.)

And so at the end of two incredible weeks, we drove into Darwin.

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Darwin’s Mindil Beach

You’ve seen the photos, now watch the video!

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6 thoughts on “Wild Adventures!”

  1. Sounds like an amazing trip Danila. And reminded me very much of the time Don and I spent travelling around the Top End – Kakadu, Litchfield and Nitmiluk. You go some fabulous photos.
    Alison

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