We’re clocking up some miles today on the Gibb River. It’s only 300km’s or so but it’s full of dust, errant cattle and intriguing Kimberley roadside stops.
The first is the Mt Barnett Roadhouse.
Petrol is $2.50 a litre, a loaf of bread $9 and a bag of ice $10. We just buy petrol from the surly British backpackers working the counter.
Pushing on we start to see the first of the build-up of ‘Knock em down’ storm clouds, so named for their ability to dampen dry grasses flat with their torrential dumps of rain. There’s not a drop falling, and the clouds have cleared by the time we call into the Inimitjie Store.
There’s an affable husband and wife serving up fresh brewed coffee and Gibb River famed fresh baked pies, as well as local knowledge on the area.
It’s thanks to them that I find myself an hour later floating, spread-eagled in a remote waterhole. My ears pick up the underwater hiss and fizz of the waterfall that is Bell Gorge Falls
I’m also recalling the old adage ‘No pain, no gain’. I definitely pained, oh how I pained on this leg burner of a walk into the Gorge. In 38 degree midday heat I felt as though I was wading through buckets of my sweat, and the sweat of hikers before me.
The falls swim was a short reprieve. It was a hot walk back out again, and the bigger squid and I both blew a tyre tred on our river sandles.
We are learning that we need to pull up much earlier in the day – we hightail it out of there and towards camp at Windjana Gorge.
A floor show like no other – Windjana Gorge
It’s dusk. A hungry crowd awaits.
And that’s just us in the front row, creek-side seats.
We’re here for nature’s nightly show. As the sun plonks into the horizon, the screeches and whirr of wings fills the sky. Bats. Hundreds of them, waking from their slumber in the craggy cliffs and swooping into the twilight sky like commuters racing for the first train.
Their day has now commenced.
For the freshies in the murky water below their flight path, so too has the first dinner sitting.
The lights dim in the natural foyer. Campers sit forward expectantly.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s showtime!
The crisp snap of jaws. The force of leaping bodies. There’s a flurry of lunging and thrashing. Scales and fur, teeth and wings.
The crowd oohs and boohs and hisses with each near miss as bats flounder and fail.
The last time I heard such intense crowd interaction like this was the Boxing Day test match at the MCG.
The crowd wants more. So do the crocs!
Dusk at Windjana Gorge on the Gibb River Rd is a primordial, blood thirsty, macabrely delightful floorshow.
It’s pitch black now, a small collection of spectators stumble back to camp with torches. But not before beaming lights low across the still creek. Countless, countless, COUNTLESS beady eyes gleam back at us menacingly.
Not waiting for intermission, we get the hell out of there.
Windjana Gorge National Park features two other things worth remembering:
- A savannah walk beside a Devonian reef with fossils embedded in the gorge walls
- The first flushing toilet’s we’ve seen in a national park in a while
But they’ve got nothing on the croc and bat buffet at dusk!
We also use this campsite here as our base to explore the nearby Tunnel Creek National Park.
It’s almost a relief to do this walk in the middle of the day as we escape the heat. Tunnel Creek flows through a spacious, water-worn tunnel beneath the limestone of the Napier Range. Stalactites suspend from the roof, in good company with an endless population of bats.
We pull out the torches and wade through ankle deep water into the dark depths of the tunnels. Boy Squid uncharacteristically gets a tad freaked out and needs cajoling to continue. Little Miss Squid vies for the title of Adventurous 6 year old and treks all the way though with the Skipper to the other side of the tunnels.
Me? It’s cool, it’s quiet. I’m happy.
Nearby we pay homage to Jandamarra – Australia’s aboriginal outlaw, who probably should be afforded the same heroic Aussie status as Ned Kelly. But he hasn’t. Because he’s aboriginal.
Instead we view well written interpretive plaques, visit the nearby prison and reflect on his near obscurity in history.
I’m heartened however that his story is not that unfamiliar to the bigger Squid. Last year his school hosted a visit from children’s author Mark Greenwood, who published a terrific kids book on Jandamarra. God bless those story tellers out there, fighting the good fight, sharing the hidden histories.
The Skipper and I celebrate our last night on the Gibb River Rd by sharing a luke-warm beer between us.
The Gibb River Rd has been remote, rugged and remarkable.
Tomorrow we’ll hit bitumen – and beer – and Broome!