Our first destination after leaving Broome was the Dampier Peninsula via the Cape Leveque Road. The first part of the Cape Leveque Road is sealed but this is then followed by almost 80 kilometres of unsealed road of highly variable condition. When we travelled it many sections were either very rough, very corrugated or very sandy – and sometimes a combination of all three types of sections – and occasionally we opted to travel on either the wrong side of the road or on the banked edge of the road just to get a more comfortable ride.
Our first stop was Beagle Bay to visit the beautiful Sacred Heart Church. The church, which was built between 1915 and 1918, is an outstanding example of the creative use of local resources for both construction and decoration purposes.
More than 60,000 bricks were handmade locally for the main church building using a mixture of white clay and black mud and the lime used in the mortar and the whitewash was made by burning down seashells in the kiln used for firing the bricks. A few years after the church was finished another 15,000 double bricks – the equivalent of 30,000 regular bricks – were made for the construction of the 12 metre high bell tower. (The original bell tower collapsed in September 2000 but thanks to the generous support of thousands of individuals and many organisations from all around Australia and overseas it was restored to its former glory by November 2002.)
The original brush and plaster church ceiling, which was inlaid with fragments of pearl shell to represent the stars in the sky, was destroyed by termites in the 1920s after which it was replaced with flattened kerosene tins. However, it is the highly decorated main and side altars that stands out for their simple beauty with hundreds of mother-of-pearl shells, other coloured shells and operculum stone (the ‘lid’ or ‘cover’ that seals a sea snail shell) laid into the plaster. In addition, the Stations of the Cross, which were painted in 1949, have been beautifully framed with pearl shell and coloured shell fragments.
From Beagle Bay we continued on to the Gumbanan Bush Camp where we setup our camper in a sheltered location (we’d read that it can get a bit windy in the more exposed locations) before heading off to the nearby community of Bardi (One Arm Point) to look around and visit the Ardyaloon Trochus Hatchery & Aquaculture Centre (trochus shell is used to make the shell buttons used on many high-end fashion garments). The centre also has a number of large round tanks that are used to house local tropical fish and crabs for display purposes and injured/recovering marine animals like turtles and crocodiles and also a smaller shallow tank used for displaying local marine plants and corals.
After leaving Bardi we headed for the Kooljaman at Cape Leveque Resort to visit the lighthouse and take a walk along the beach. We knew ahead of time that visitors not staying at Kooljaman are required to purchase a $5 day pass in order at access the lighthouse and beach so we went into the shop to purchase our passes.
Although it was just before 5:00 PM when we arrived (after travelling for 5kms along the very rough and sandy access road – apparently vehicles were getting bogged in the sand every couple of days) there was still plenty of daylight left so we were shocked when we were told that day passes were not valid after 5:00 PM and that we would have to come back another time. That said, apparently we would have been allowed to stay and visit the lighthouse and walk along the beach if we were dining in their very expensive restaurant! Based on the *very* poor attitude of the staff and the equally poor condition of the road (along which we would also have had to tow the camper if we did revisit) we decided not to go back …
Before leaving the Gumbanan Bush Camp the following morning we listened to a presentation given by Frank Davey who, along with his family and many of the people living in Bardi, are the traditional owners of this part of the peninsula and the nearby Sunday Island. Apart from the great freshly made damper one of the other highlights of the presentation was the visit to the large rock fish trap, or ‘Mayoorr’, which captures fish on the outgoing tide. It was originally built by Frank’s great grandfather and has been maintained by the family for over five generations.
We also learnt that Frank’s family are part of the Bardi Jawi People, also known as ‘Salt Water People’, and that they pass on much of their traditional culture and stories through song and dance. Frank’s family formed the ‘Bardi Dancers’, a traditional dance troupe that has performed both nationally and internationally, not only to pass on Bardi culture and stories to other family members but also as a way of sharing their culture and stories with people outside their community.
Our next stop for just one night was Derby but just as we reached Roebuck Plains Roadhouse we were directed off the road by a vehicle escorting two trucks carrying wide loads that needed to refuel at the roadhouse – each piece of mining equipment these trucks were carrying was a full two lanes wide! We also refuelled and then had some lunch and it just so happened that the trucks carrying the wide loads left a few minutes before us and were travelling in the same direction. We were stuck behind them for a while and it was quite entertaining to watch the flexible guide posts flicking back and forth when the pieces of mining equipment occasionally came in contact with them.
After leaving Derby we made our way along the western end of the Gibb River Road for the Napier Range and a three night stay in the campground at the spectacular Windjana Gorge. The Napier Range is part of an ancient limestone reef known as the Devonian Reef and millions of years ago the whole area was under the ocean – it is WA’s equivalent of the Great Barrier Reef. Over time the Lennard River has carved Windjana Gorge out of the reef and it is more than three kilometres long and 100 metres wide and has walls on both sides that are between 30 and 100 metres high. While the Lennard River flows through the gorge in the wet season it is reduced to a series of pools in a sandy riverbed in the dry season and many of the larger pools are inhabited by freshwater crocodiles.
After setting up camp we decided to visit nearby Tunnel Creek and although we saw a few WA Variety Club cars leaving another Windjana campground at the same time, and we passed a few on the way, we didn’t think much of it until we arrived at Tunnel Creek. It was packed when we got there!! In addition to about two dozen Variety Club cars there were also two tourist buses parked in the visitor parking and there was a queue of about 15-20 people waiting to get inside Tunnel Creek. We decided to come back again in a few days on our way back to Broome …
Just before sunset we walked to a large pool near Bandingan Rock at the entrance to Windjana Gorge to watch an impressive daily event. At dusk the hundreds of flying foxes which live in the gorge take flight as they head out for a nightly feed and along the way some of them skim the surface of the larger pools to drink. During the late afternoon many of the crocodiles move from the riverbanks and smaller pools into this large pool in the hope of catching an unwary flying fox as it comes in to drink. Although we didn’t see any flying foxes get taken it was impressive to see just how quickly and how high the crocodiles could jump in their attempts to catch them.
On our second day we took a trip to visit the beautiful Bell Gorge and to see its series of waterfalls that cascade into a wonderfully refreshing pool – once again it was lovely to be able to take a dip on a hot day! On the way to and from Bell Gorge we passed a landmark known as “Queen Victoria’s Head” and the remains of several vehicles and a caravan that had not survived their trip to the Kimberley.
It was quite hot the whole time we were at Windjana Gorge and as the temperature in the gorge can be 5-10 degrees hotter due to the radiant heat from the rock walls and the sandy riverbed I did the gorge floor walk early on our second morning there. I walked along the main walking track for as far as I could go (the track is currently on 2.5 kilometres long as the last kilometre of it was damaged during the last wet season and work to repair it has not yet been completed) and then crossed down onto the riverbed and walked along its sandy bottom and its beaches on the return trip. While the walk along the main track was interesting (tip for the unwary – as you will walk below where the flying foxes are roosting for several hundred metres you should wear a hat and you should not, under any circumstances, look up while walking through this section!) it was quite overgrown in places. By contrast, the return trip along the riverbed was spectacular – it was amazing to be able to walk along a mostly dry riverbed with the towering walls of the gorge on both sides!
The other thing I got to see at Windjana Gorge was the beautiful bower of a Great Bowerbird which, unlike the Satin Bowerbird which collects mainly blue objects, collects white, grey and green objects with which to decorate his bower in the hope of attracting a female.
Like many other National Parks in Western Australia entry and camping fees are charged at Windjana Gorge and there is a self-registration station at the entrance. We stayed there for three nights and each evening a park ranger came around to check that the correct fees had been paid and each night he had to collect fees from about 75% of the people who were camped there (and not without some rather lengthy discussions on several occasions). It’s really disappointing when people try and get away without paying the fees due and it seems that many travellers regard the fees payable by ‘honesty’ systems as optional even when they make full use of the services offered …
After packing up and leaving Windjana Gorge quite early we visited Tunnel Creek, which is in Western Australia’s oldest cave system, and when we arrived there at about 0830 there was only one other vehicle in the carpark and only two people in the tunnel. (Just after leaving Tunnel Gorge we passed a couple of tour buses full of tourists heading for Tunnel Gorge – we had timed our visit perfectly!)
Tunnel Creek flows through a water worn, 750 metre long tunnel beneath the Devonian reef – the same reef nearby Windjana Gorge was formed from. The creek once flowed across the top of the Napier range and the original course is still marked on the top of the range. Water seepage gradually enlarged fractures in the limestone until the creek reached today’s underground course. The tunnel is up to 12 metres high and 15 metres wide and contains permanent pools of fresh water in which freshwater crocodiles are found (there were a couple of crocodiles on the sandy riverbank when I walking along the tunnel and even though I was mindful of not getting between them and the water there was one crocodile who was so high up the riverbank that I had no choice but fortunately it didn’t seem to mind).
After our quick trip to the Kimberley we returned to Broome so that we could get the car serviced again before continuing on. It was booked in for first thing on Monday 29 August and as the Toyota dealer was close to the city centre we decided to wait in town while the service was done. The forecast that day was for a possible chance of a few millimetres of rain – what eventuated was the wettest August day on record for Broome. The previous wettest August day was in 1971 when 12.4mm of rain fell – as we sat at the coffee shop we watched more rain than that fall in less than an hour and the total rainfall for the day was more than 22mm! The drains could not cope with so much rain falling so quickly and the roads in the city centre became flooded and, with rain continuing to fall, it took several hours for the water to drain away.
Oh – and this week marks more than 20,000 kilometres and almost 20 weeks since we left home …