Western Australia… here we come!
Turning off on to the Victoria Highway we continued our journey along a road that would lead to more adventures.
With the CamperMate App navigation set for the next free camp, we pulled in at Limestone Rest Area, just 58-kilometres west of Katherine where, after detouring along a gravel track we found a nice shady spot, just back from the highway, amongst some scrawny trees.
One of the most enjoyable parts of this nomad lifestyle is the people you meet along the way, and it is these people who can really make a road trip memorable.
Finding a nice shady spot we were just about to set up our rooftop tent when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a couple sitting in the shade of the tree next to their tent. They looked comfortable and cool with a cold beer in hand and acknowledging our neighbours we continued with our task of setting up camp… when a voice drifted over ‘We’re timing you guys’!
A favourite past time of many campers is to watch how other people set up camp, what their set up is like, how easy it is and more importantly how long it takes to get the kettle on… but instead of putting the kettle on, we opted to wander over and introduce ourselves and find out how well we did time-wise.
It’s pretty hard work for us to set up! Our set up means popping the rooftop tent and putting the awning up, getting out the camp chairs, setting up the solar then finding a nice cold beer or wine in the fridge… and we’re done!
Our favourite pass time is to sit and share stories with fellow travellers… so sitting down in the shade of their tree with a cold beer in hand we chatted to this lovely couple from Broome until well after the sun had gone down. Welcome to our blog Dee and Lee!
Next morning we packed up really early and headed further down the road to Victoria River Roadhouse, a bit over 140-kilometres away and a great stopover on the banks of the Victoria River.
The road was fairly quiet as we travelled along, probably because it was so early in the morning, and the scenery much more interesting with the start of a significant change in the landscape; rocky outcrops that were just stunning, lots of red dust and beautiful boab trees!
The Victoria Roadhouse had a large campground out the back with powered or unpowered sites, but our stop was only for fuel and the amenities before hitting the road again.
The Victoria River Region has diverse and awe-inspiring land forms and weaving through it all is the Victoria River that runs into deep valleys and gorges, the Territory’s largest waterway, which in many places is over 1-kilometre wide.
The Old Victoria River Crossing was not far from the roadhouse and worthy of a look if you are passing through. This is where the old highway used to cross the river before the bridge was built and although the access is 4WD only, it’s not that far down the track that you can’t walk. Be warned though, this place if very pretty and inviting, but don’t even think about a dip, the Victoria River is full of those nastie saltwater crocs.
The Victoria Highway runs right through the middle of this smaller eastern part of the Gregory National Park and just 2-kilometres down the road from the roadhouse we came to a walking track where we only had to pull into a verge on the side of the highway to find a park.
Judbarra/ Gregory National Park features spectacular range and gorge scenery and significant traces of Aboriginal culture and following a 3-kilometre return walk over a rocky, steep, track we followed signs and displays explaining the Nungali and Wardaman people’s dreamtime stories of this area.
Arriving on top of the ridge we had breathtaking views over the Victoria River escarpments. This park covers a huge area of 13,000 sq. kilometres and is in the transition zone between tropical and semi arid regions in the Northern Territory.
With tyres deflated, we turned south off the main highway just 10-kilometres east of Timber Creek and headed down a dusty 42-kilometres 4WD track; a relatively smooth track with hardly a corrugation; just beautiful red dust, a few creek crossings mostly with concrete causeways, and more stunning boab trees.
Just 14-kilometres from the homestead we detoured on to a really, really rough 4WD track to check out Limestone Gorge and slowly manovouring Harry Hilux along the track and over a long boulder lined creek bed we came to an almost empty campground… just another couple sitting having their morning tea and trying to fend off the very annoying FLIES this campground seemed to attract!
Thankful of our trusty fly nets to keep the flies off our faces, we pulled on our walking boots, grabbed our camelback water packs, and set off on another hike.
From the campground we had easy access to the 1.8- kilometre ‘Limestone Ridge Loop Walk’, and after winding our way up through the limestone landscape in 36+ degree heat with dozens of free loaders hitching a ride on our backs, we were once again rewarded with amazing views from the ridges, only this time of the East Baines River valley.
For those travelling this far in to the Gregory National Park I highly recommend a trip to this gorge… it was well worth the effort to drive in, the climb to the top of the escarpment was amazing, and had it not been so early in the day it would have been a great spot to pull up stumps!
Retracing our steps back to the car we then negotiated our way back over the creek bed, passing an incredible stromatolite ‘reef’ we had passed on the way in but not admiring its beauty until now… as we had been too busy negotiating the track!
Stopping at the ‘Calcite Flow Track’ we followed another short track for about 600-metres to see stromatolites (fossilised prehistoric life forms) and a spectacular crystalised limestone waterfall.
These ‘Calcite Flows’ and ‘Tufa Dams’ are where the calcium carbonate has formed from being precipitated out of the water onto natural sandbars and trees roots and over the years has built up causing dam-wall like structures.
Taking it very, very slowly, we eventually made it back to the main track then headed for the ‘Old Bullita Homestead‘ to explore the history of the pastoral past of the area.
The inside of this homestead was quite an intriguing place to browse with information boards about the homestead and its owners, and letters reprinted and displayed on the walls telling amazing stories of how life used to be in this harsh, unforgiving country and the pains and hardships endured by the people who worked this land… as recently as 1977.
One letter was written by the wife of one of the pastoralists who lived here back in 1977 which gave a detailed account describing a time when the nearby river completely flooded the homestead and outbuildings, almost taking her life.
She was alone at the homestead for several weeks as her husband was away mustering and all their possessions, cattle and dogs were washed away. She was left with no dry clothes, food or suitable drinking water for several days until his return.
In the letter she wrote to a friend, she described how she was woken up the very night of the flood by a huge King Brown snake in the kitchen, which she shot at but not being sure if she’d killed it or not, she sat up all night watching and waiting with her gun.
It was then she realised the river, which was very close to the homestead, was rising rapidly but in an attempt to move her chickens and other animals to higher ground she was washed into the river. The story goes that she was wedged in the fork of a tree throughout the rest of the day and night waiting for the floodwaters to receded.
Back in the sunshine, we wandered around the stockyards that had been authentically reproduced with local Lancewood and Bloodwood trees then headed for the campground next door to the homestead.
This very dusty campground on the banks of the East Baines river was a great place to set up camp. It had pit toilets, wood bbqs, picnic tables and lots of majestic boab trees and although most sites were occupied when we pulled in, we still managed to find a nice spot amongst the trees where we could set up our camp shower, light a fire and relax with a good book and a glass of wine…. just be prepared to get covered in red dust if you camp here though!
From here the Bullita Stock Route travels through the Gregory National Park on its way to Wyndham in Western Australia. This 4-5 hour trip from the homestead, which we had considered tackling, is around 69-kilometres all up, thats without the detour into Drovers Rest campground, which is another 23-kilometres. The track takes you through some pretty rough country with steep creek crossings, dry river bed crossings and rugged rocky bluffs and hills.
Back out on the Victoria Highway our next stop was Timber Creek to grab a few supplies and fuel. This little roadside stop was named in 1855 when the explorer Augustus Gregory used timber from the creek to repair his expedition’s boat.
Travelling on we stopped at Big Horse Creek Campground, 10-kilometres west of Timber Creek and a popular base for anglers… but definitely not a campground I would recommend camping at going by the overflowing bins, the dirty toilets and all the rubbish strewn everywhere.
The squalor left by some passers by, is definitely not acceptable. These irresponsible people (who I might add are in the minority), need to take a good look at themselves and realise that their laziness and filthiness is causing a lot of free campgrounds to close down. No one wants to see someone else’s rubbish and dirty toilet paper lying around or be turned away by a broken toilet with doors hanging off their hinges!
Australia is a HUGE place with long distances between towns and you will always find little roadside spots tucked away where you can spend the night for absolutely zero dollars but gradually ‘No Camping’ areas are spreading as too many travellers use and abuse these sites.
On a happy note… Free camping around Australia is a great way to see our fantastic country and there is nothing better than waking up to the sound of birds, or the crashing of waves only metres from your car. From one traveller to another…. be a courteous camper and follow the basic rules and do your bit to help keep free camping exactly that… FREE!
Heading on and just 9-kilometres west of Big Horse Creek Campground we turned off and followed a 3-kilometre unsealed corrugated road that brought us to ‘Gregory’s Tree Historical Reserve‘, which as well as marking the site where Augustus Charles Gregory and his party of explorers set up their base camp on 13th October 1855 to explore the Victoria River, is also a sacred Aboriginal site.
‘Gregory’s Tree‘ is a magnificent boab tree, just sitting above the Victoria River and it was here that Baines, the expedition artist, carved the arrival and departure dates of Gregory’s North Australian Expedition from this base camp into the tree.
It was an amazing account of the history of this area and after reading the accounts of the early explorers and walking around this tree, we both commented that not only had we not studied the ‘Gregory’s Expedition‘ when we were at school but we really didn’t know a lot about ‘Gregory’ until we read this information.
Continuing on we marvelled at the magnificent scenery as we continued to follow the highway. The ranges had markings which resembled water erosions and there were boab trees scattered everywhere.
Our journey through the Pinkerton Range was fascinating with tall, flat topped, red hills, with distinct layers of rectangular shaped rocks near the top and lots of large rock falls beneath.
A long, flat road meandered between the hills before us and we eventually pulled in to our last free camp on Territorian soil, Saddle Creek Roadstop.
This large camp area was surrounded by ridges of very impressive sandstone, an impressive vista where we were privy to a stunning sunset, and a beautiful sunrise and we were in good company with lots of vans around us.
Campers wandered around chatting and trying to off load their honey and fruit and veggies to whoever was willing to take their goodies before they crossed the Western Australia border. Those that couldn’t be handed out were left in the undercover area for other campers and passers by!
This roadside stop was a very busy rest area for travellers crossing from one state to the next with a number of cars pulling in for a short break and to use the amenities before heading off again!
Toilets are always handy as are the undercover seating areas and this could have been a great campground had the toilets not been vandalised and dirty.
This was certainly on the lower end of well looked after road stops we had seen of late and the toilets left a lot to be desired, they were disgusting!
Again with doors hanging off hinges and rubbish strewn all around, these smelly long drops, complete with complimentary flies had to be the filthiest toilets we had come across on all our travels… but then we are coming to expect this of the roadside stops at this end of the Territory!
For vanners it was a great place to pull in for a night because they were fully self contained but for us it was going to be a long night and our plan was to make a mad dash to the border early the next morning!
Tucking ourselves in amongst the gum trees, well away from the amenities, we cooked our meal then sat and watched an amazing sunset as we sipped our wine.
The beauty and ruggedness of this remote destination was truly captivating and there’s always something magical about a sunset.
As the most brilliant reds and oranges stained the horizon and the sun slowly disappeared behind it, the majestic rock walls that surrounded us were bathed in the most amazing colours and impossible to capture on camera… a fleeting beauty for just a few moments, and then it was gone!
Wrapped in a blanket of countless stars we then enjoyed the ambience of the evening before turning in for our last night in the Northern Territory! There’s nothing more memorable than ending a day with a beautiful sunset then a million twinkling stars… and sharing it with your significant other!
Next morning, as we cooked our porridge as the sun rose behind the gum trees and once again brilliant reds and golds appeared from the horizon… just what we needed to kick start our day!
Making tracks we headed for the border… we were desperate for the clean amenities!
Today we would cross into Western Australia (WA), but not before being checked at the quarantine station. We had travelled this way on a previous trip so we knew the rules and what to expect having already disposed of our honey and fruit and veggies at the last road side stop, then after the obligatory border sign photo, we were on our way again.
Having crossed the border into Western Australia we also had the added bonus of an few extra hours of daylight. We had turned our watches back 1½ hours and were now 2 hours behind Tassie time. This would be something we would need to remember when calling family back home… that is if we ever got coverage. Telstra had thoughtlessly failed to provide mobile phone coverage for some distance now.
The Kimberley region extends from Kununurra and Lake Argyle in the east to Broome in the west and from the sea in the north to a bit south of the main Great Northern Highway. It covers about 421 thousand kilometres with access to much of this region via dirt roads.
It is believed the first signs of human habitation of the East Kimberley were approximately 40-60 thousand years ago and it is home to the Mirriwung Gajjerong Aboriginal people.
The first Europeans began to explore the potential of this part of Australia in 1879. Alexander Forrest’s glowing report of approximately 10 million hectares of fertile land created great interest, especially among eastern cattlemen, who at the time were constantly seeking new well-watered pastures to settle.
We had camped at Lake Argyle on a previous trip after hearing so much about it on Macca’s ‘Australia All Over’, and we were really looking forward to visiting again so turning off the Victoria Highway we continued 35-kilometres toward the village and Australia’s biggest body of freshwater, classified as an inland sea.
Nestled in the side of the Carr Boyd Ranges on a flat out crop of rock with steep cliffs either side and rolling escarpments, the campground is the heart of this little village; the information centre, general store; with fuel and basic essentials, and a restaurant all rolled into one.
The temperature had reached 40 degrees while we were travelling so it was good to stop and sit back with a nice cool beer before a much anticipated swim!
Today was all about water and lots of it… and the views from the infinity pool overlooking the steep cliffs and the lake were absolutely magnificent!
What better way to finish a glorious day than with another magical sunset over the lake with a backdrop of undulating and rugged rocky cliffs… and as the sun turned the scenery to a beautiful orange and the light began to fade we made our way back to camp.
We didn’t need much rocking to sleep that night, we slept so peacefully in the nice cooling breeze coming off the lake then next morning feeling refreshed, we headed off to check out the Ord River Gorge and take a quick dip in Lake Argyle… just to say we had.
From the lookout it certainly was a breathtaking sight over the steep cliffs as they dropped straight into the lake then out over the impressive dam. It was an amazing spot.
The damming of the Ord River was first contemplated in 1939 by Kimberley Durack and work commenced on the project 20 years later by building the Diversion Dam in Kununurra. In 1941, the Western Australian Government established a small experimental farm on the Ord to investigate possible dam sites upstream but in 1945 this was abandoned and it wasn’t until 1958 that the Western Australian government was convinced of the viability of an irrigation scheme on the Ord with the first stage of the project was completed in 1963. The second stage of construction was to provide a major storage reservoir, which is Lake Argyle.
Durak Homestead Museum was just a bit down the road from Lake Argyle and for those who are not familiar with Australian history, this is Durack country, settled by the pioneering Durack family from Ireland, and described in several books by Mary Durack, notably ‘Kings in Grass Castles‘ and ‘Sons in the Saddle‘.
The land where the original Durak Homestead ‘Argyle Downs’ was situated is now at the bottom of Lake Argyle but the homestead was moved stone by stone to its present location and converted to a museum when the Ord Dam was built.
Kelly’s Knob Lookout is only a bit over a kilometre out of town and if you are feeling energetic, a good hard walk to the top. It is also a good place to watch the sunset.
It was then on to Ivanhoe Crossing and our last stop for the day. This crossing crosses the Ord River on a back gravel road, which was the original road from Wyndham to Kununurra. It dates back to the 1800s and passes a few old relics along the way then meets up with the Parry’s Creek Road, which is only a stone’s throw away from Parry’s Creek Farm, a great camping spot that is not far from Wyndham.
Ivanhoe Crossing is a very popular barramundi fishing spot and it seems fishermen up this way risk life and limb for a catch, despite all the signs warning that crocs inhabit this area… and it was no surprise to find lots of people fishing off the concrete causeway and standing in the water.
Kununarra is situated on the banks of the Ord and is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘big waters’! It is one of Western Australia’s youngest towns at only 45-years old and is also the gateway to some of the natural beauties of the East Kimberley’s including the Gibb River Road where we were travelling next.
This town sits in the shadows of an ancient land of 350-million-year-old rocks where for the past 40 million years Aboriginals have painted their distinctive, alien-like figures on cave walls.
It wasn’t until 1882 that this regions isolation was invaded when the first of the cattle barons, namely Irish-born Patrick Durack, drove 7250 cattle 4800-kilometres from Queensland in the longest droving trek in history taking almost 2½ years with half the cattle lost on the way.
By 1886 Durack had established his Argyle Station on the lush grassy plains of the Ord River Basin and as mentioned earlier, the land where the Argyle homestead once sat has now been drowned under Lake Argyle.
The ‘Discovery Caravan Park‘ on the banks of Lake Kununurra was the perfect place to set up camp for a night and having arrived early in the afternoon we decided the rest of the day was for doing nothing, just reading, swimming, hunting out the allusive freshwater crocodile by the name of George who lives near the water’s edge (we found him basking in the shallows), befriending the local birdlife, preparing for another off road adventure and chatting to fellow campers.
When you’re travelling, you meet people from all walks of life and most travellers like to think of themselves as adventurous. It is these adventurous souls that we have found contagious to be around and fantastic company and it was when we met a couple of ‘Wise Old Owls’ in this campground that we knew we were in for a treat.
There wasn’t a whiff of pretentiousness or arrogance about these guys that we sometimes found with other 4WD enthusiasts. They had been everywhere… twice, and they gave us the best advice ever about the Gibb River Road… and even gave us a couple of tyre patches and old fashion advice about removing tyres and then replacing them onto the rim! ‘It’s a pretty rough road’, they told us ‘and we have had a couple of flats and a rock through our windscreen’!
They had just come off the Gibb River Road, and were more than happy to share their experiences… and it was a welcome break from the long days on the road for all of us!
That evening just on sunset the peacefulness of the park was broken by a loud screeching noise then the clear sky became a mass of black dots as thousands upon thousands of Fruit Bats made their way to the mango trees and banana plantations nearby.
Be warned, if the mangos are fruiting in the area the bats can be very annoying around this time of the day and after sheltering in the camp kitchen we eventually emerged to find the bbqs, picnic tables and our windscreen covered with bat poo… and it was very hard to clean off !
Next day was the start of our Gibb River Road adventure and the 1½ hour time difference after crossing the border now meant our wake up with the sunrise was 5.00 am, so it was an early start for us.
We had travelled the road to Turkey Creek, the Bungle Bungles, Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing on our previous trip. Read more – You take the low road and we’ll take the high road… and we’ll meet you in Derby… but on this trip we wanted to check out what the rugged North Kimberley had to offer!
The town was established in 1886 as a result of the Halls Creek gold rush and is situated on the Cambridge Gulf, 148-kilometres towards the coast from Kununurra. It is Western Australia’s northern most town famous for its barramundi, billabongs, boab trees… and big crocs!
As we drove in, another of the Aussie ‘Big Things’ loomed out of the land, a 20-metre long concrete crocodile welcoming visitors to the town. On either side of the main road were run down houses and buildings that had been boarded up and a group of Aboriginals sat in the park area carving intricate designs on boab nuts with bread and butter knives.
This remote community appeared to be an abandon town, with only the group of Aboriginal people to be seen but in actual fact it has a population of approximately 800 people including a significant Aboriginal population.
We continued on to the port where access to the wharf was restricted. This port is still working and it services a huge cattle export industry, a large mining industry and the Ord River Project but all that was visible were the old relics of train equipment used when Wyndham had a meat export processing plant further up the road.
Any thoughts of finding a protected swimming pool to cool off here were soon dashed. All that surrounded us was mud and lots of crocs and not a local swimming pool insight. Saltwater crocodiles are in abundance in the estuaries surrounding Wyndham and there was even a crocodile farm up the road.
‘Swimming with Crocodiles’ is a great book to read if visiting Wyndam. This true story was written by American ‘Will Chaffey’ who, after moving to Australia, planned a hazardous journey with another guy to walk from the headwaters of the Prince Regent River to the falls of the King Cascade on the north-west coast of Western Australia in search of Australia’s rarest python. Starting at Wyndam they trekked through harsh landscapes, their expedition turning into a life-and-death struggle when the boat that was supposed to collect them at King Cascade never arrived.
Towering above Wyndham was an imposing Bastion – a sheer outcrop several hundred metres high and following a winding road up the side we came to the Five Rivers Lookout, offering breathtaking views of the region. Just to see the five rivers converging to merge into the sea was an amazing view, with the Cockburn Ranges providing a tremendous backdrop.
The wide Cambridge Gulf was visible in the distance, where the King, the Pentecost, the Durack, the Forest and the Ord Rivers all meet. We had incredible views of the mangrove trees lining the edge of the rivers, the distant ranges, the town, and the port and as the tide was way out each river appeared to snake its way back into its own region of the Kimberley … a view that was absolutely stunning.
Heading back out to the Great Northern Highway we stopped to visit the Prison Tree, a hollowed out old Boab tree once used by local police as a temporary lock-up, usually for Aboriginal prisoners. It was a fantastic old tree that must be hundreds of years old but sadly there was no signage to tell us about the history. There was small hole in one side that was obviously the entrance to the prison and inside it was approximately ten feet wide on the floor and about fifteen feet at the widest point. Amazingly this tree was still alive bearing green leaves and nuts.
These ancient icons had surrounded us for much of our travels of late and seemed to exemplify the Kimberley region. Each had a mysterious quality and each one seemed to have character and personality that was unique in its own way. They are beautiful trees and I really loved them!
Some boab trees are 1500 years old, some even older, which makes them the oldest living beings in Australia, and puts them amongst the oldest trees in the world.
Aboriginals used the giant boabs as shelter, food and medicine. For the white settlers they served as easily recognisable landmarks and meeting points and not to forget, as impromptu prison cells.
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’, due to their bottle shape but in Australia we like to call them boabs.
Continuing on, our next stop was the Grotto. A magnificent gorge with around 140 steps to get to the waterhole to cool off. The steps down were a bit daunting without a rail but at the base it was gorgeous with a natural amphitheatre secluded by boab trees and stair like platforms of dusty red rock… and a dip would have been a welcome relief in the heat of the day had there been flowing water and it had not been crowded with local school children. The pool had a few trees with some ferns and palms clinging to a wet rock face with lots of big rocks but it had a very unhealthy dark green colour to it!
It was with little trepidation that we headed to the turnoff to the Gibb River Road.
This true outback odyssey is one of Australia’s most unique 4WD tracks and a trip we were really looking forward to.
As we turned off and headed ‘over the range’ we knew another Aussie outback adventure of dust and dirt, river crossings, corrugation was about to begin.
Come join us on another incredible journey… but make sure you bring a spare tyre!