Tag Archives: Gibb River Road

Windjana Gorge

Wednesday 11th to Friday 13th September

By this stage we were becoming old hands at breaking camp and we were soon on our way. It was 90km to the Gibb River Road and where  we headed west. We stopped at Imintji for some supplies. There was some smoke from bush fires to be seen but we never felt in any danger.

On the way from Monington to Windjana
Smoke from bush fires in the King Leopold Ranges

The Gibb River Road is largely dirt but it is characterised by occasional stretches of tar. Some of these are where the road is curvy but many others seem to be randomly distributed.

Geological map of the Windjana Gorge area with our route to it from Mornington

As we got nearer to Windjana Gorge we recognised a well known head.

On the way from Monington to Windjana
Queen Victoria looks over Napier Downs

Shortly afterwards we passed a rubbish collection centre (where people can dump their rubbish from there cars and campers and keep The Kimberleys clean) and turned left towards Windana Gorge.

HERE is a link to our route from Mornington to Windjana. It is the GPS track I recorded en route. And linked to it are the photos taken with the actual spot they were taken! It is a .kmz file which you will need to save and then open with Google Earth.

The quiet camp site (i.e. no generators) was almost empty so we were able to get a good spot under one of the few trees on the site. It had a good view of the reason we had come to Windjana – the Devonian Reef!

View from our campsite at Windjana
View of the Devonian Reef from our camp site at Windjana

After setting up our tent and having a badly needed cup of tea, we set off in the evening light to have a closer look at the reef. The Lennard River has eroded its way through the reef but there is a shorter way into the gorge. This is through a short cave which runs through the reef.

The walk to the gorge
Chris taking the short cut through the reef to the Lennard River Gorge

We did not go far up the gorge as evening was approaching and there were a lot of freshwater crocs in the river who, while not deadly, need to be treated with respect! But we did see a fossil, possibly some sort of nautiloid. The books suggest that there are lots of fossils but we saw few – perhaps the good sites are not publicised so as to discourage collection by tourists.

Fossil in the reef
“Our” fossil in the reef – it looks very like the one on page 370 in Bulletin 145 (see below)


Thursday 12th September 2013

We were up at the crack of dawn and walked into Windjana Gorge. It was very quiet at this time and the gorge is rather beautiful.

HERE is the route and photos taken this day.

The banks of the Lennard River
The banks of the Lennard River

The banks of the Lennard River

The banks of the Lennard River, looking to the entrance of the gorge

This was the dry season so the river was very low and scarcely flowing. There was a great deal of sand so walking was uncomfortable for persons like us wearing sandals or thongs (don’t get too excited – that’s flip-flops for us Brits!).

The walls of the gorge
The walls of the gorge

Our reason for coming to Windjana was to look at the geology of the Devonian reef. The Geological Survey of Western Australia’s Bulletin 145 on the reef can be found HERE.

The bulletin will tell you far more than I can. Essentially it was a “coral” reef in the late Devonian period. Coral is in quotations as true corals were rare at that time but beasties which filled the same ecological niche were common and built something remarkably like a coral reef.

The Classic Face
The Classic Face. This is a panoramic shot created from five individual photos.

The following are links to the five photos which you can download. Warning: – they are large files! Photo 1Photo 2Photo 3Photo 4Photo 5.

At The Classic Face we see a cross section through the reef. If you think of the Great Barrier Reef you can see that The Classic Face is a well exposed equivalent.

The reef itself is the bit against which the sea works, forming breakers. Bits are broken off the reef and these fall seawards forming a dipping fore reef of bits of broken reef. And behind the reef is an area of protected, shallow sea – a lagoon, in which flat lying coral – the back reef, is deposited.  It gets uplifted (or sea level drops), eroded and then drowned again so another reef forms.

And then it all gets planed off so that the fore reef is at the same elevation as the reef.

The Classic Face annotated. This is based on a sketch on page 351 of Bulletin 145

Above I have put in various boundaries taken from a sketch in the WA Geol. Surv. bulletin 145.  Consult this for an exhaustive discussion of the reef – it certainly impressed (and exhausted) me!

Freshwater crocodile
A Freshwater crocodile in the Lennard River

Having had a good look at the fossil reef we set off back to the camp site, passing many freshwater crocs.

Back at camp we set off for Tunnel Creek which is where a stream runs through the reef forming a tunnel which you can walk and scramble through. It sounds more impressive than it is. Photographically it did not inspire me at all and we have been to “better” caves.

At any rate I took no photos and my only memory is looking at the tour buses. Because of the high price of these tours most of the people on them are rather old, but with a sprinkling of young bloods keen to see the great outdoors. It must make for tensions between the young and fit and the old and creaky.

On our way out we met a group racing through the cave and then passed a group of elderly who had got into the shade and were waiting for the young ones to come back so that they could get back on board the bus.

Also on the way to Tunnel Creek we stopped and helped a couple who had a flat tyre. Actually we did very little – we just stayed till they had the spare on and were good to go. We might have been of use if they had not been able to get the tyre on.

Bower bird nest
A Bower Bird nest at the camp site

Back at camp we found a group of people who had found a Bower Bird nest, right in the heart of the camp. The male bird builds and decorates an elaborate nest to attract a mate. I don’t know whether this one did the trick.


Friday 13th September, 2013

HERE is the route and photos taken this day.

The boab prison tree, Derby
The boab prison tree, Derby. A hollow tree used as a prison.

The only thing of interest on the long flat drive was the Prison Boab Tree near Derby. In the late 19th century workers were needed for the mother of pearl industry in Broome and other places along the coast. So Aborigines were “recruited” (enslaved might be more accurate) from the Kimberley and marched to the coast. To discourage defection they were kept in places like the prison tree overnight on their march.

Soon we were in Broome where we booked in to a hotel for two nights.

Mornington Wilderness Camp

Monday 9th September 2013

We drove the 211 km to Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary with little difficulty. We stopped in Mount Barnett to top up with some (very expensive) supplies and to fill up with diesel.

Chatting to the man in the store we were told that the Gibb River Road closes in the wet season and is no longer considered a road by the State. So, if you do not get a permit from the authorities in Derby, it is illegal to drive on the road! And your insurance will not cover you if you have an accident! He drives to Derby for the permit, but a lot of the locals do not bother.

Geological map of the Mornington Wilderness Camp and area. Also our routes to and within the conservation area. Click on the map then download the original to see the details.

We eventually got to the turn-off for Mornington, passing some smallish bush fires on the way. At the turn-off we used the little radio shack to contact Mornington to enquire if there was a space for us. There was and we continued. It is more than 50 miles from the road to the camp and you are not allowed to stay if the camp is full. So it pays to call ahead. The map below shows our route and some points of interest along the way.

The app below allows you to download a .kmz file which, when opened in Google Earth (available HERE, if you do not have it already) shows our route as recorded by my GPS and the photos taken en-route at the place they were taken.

HERE is today’s route with photos. Open with Google Earth.

At Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary we were welcomed, signed in and told where we should pitch our tent.

The place is held on a pastoral lease by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Which is a bit odd as one of their aims is to remove cattle from the bush! Apparently pastoral leases are the only leases there are in WA so they do run some cattle to keep the lease effective. I understand that new legislation will allow them to keep the land without running cattle.

Our camp at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary
Our camp at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary

After setting up our campsite we set off for the Bluebush swimming hole so that we could wash off the dust of travel. It was very pleasant except for the presence of March Flies – the biting ones!

On the Fitzroy River
Chris at the Bluebush swimming hole on the Fitzroy River

Tuesday 10th September 2013

After hiring paddles and life jackets we set off for the long drive to Dimond Gorge on the Fitzroy River. There we found our canoe and set off. We soon discovered that Chris was not a natural paddler. Eventually I asked her to stop paddling and to let me do it on my own.

HERE is today’s route with photos. Open with Google Earth.

We found a nice spot to stop and stayed some time sunbathing and swimming – and talking to the other paddlers whose interests were more inclined towards the animals in the gorge.

At Dimond Gorge
Canoeing on the Fitzroy River – Dimond Gorge
At Dimond Gorge
Chris enjoying the sun in Dimond Gorge


At Dimond Gorge
Chris crosses the Fitzroy and contemplates the walls of the gorge

We went a little further then returned to camp. We decided to eat at the restaurant and had a very nice meal under the stars.

Then we listened to a lecture about the work AWC was doing at Mornington. Especially interesting was their work on feral domestic cats. Feral cats kill a huge number of small mammals and are a big problem. Several feral cats have been fitted with devices which indicate their position.

After a bush fire small mammals are concentrated round the burnt area and are very vulnerable. It was found that feral cats can, by some unknown means, detect where a fire has taken place and move tens of kilometres to the site to enjoy the abundant prey. Cats are cleverer than you might think!

So to bed and off to Windjana Gorge on Wednesday morning.

Mount Elizabeth

7th and 8th September 2013

After a very pleasant stay at El Questro we set off for Mount Elizabeth Station which is 326 km along the Gibb River Road. This was a fairly easy drive with occasional bits of tarred road and lots of road works. Even crossing the Pentecost River was easy – there was very little water and we could not get our tyres wet!

HERE is today’s route with photos. Open with Google Earth.

Most of the way was over Proterozoic sandstones which give a rugged topography.

Mount Elizabeth annotated
Geological Map of the Mount Elizabeth Area with our routes shown.

These geological maps, available for the whole of Australia, can be downloaded from HERE.

My expectations for Mount Elizabeth were rather low – we hadn’t stayed at any working farms and I worried that we would be regarded as nuisances. But when we got to the farm, twenty miles from the Gibb River Road, we found that the farm had recently finished its busy period – rounding up its cattle and sending many of them to market. So there was not much happening and we were the most exciting thing to happen that day! We were the only people at the camp site. However there were lots of little Wallabies and one, in particular, was extremely curious.

Mount Elizabeth Station
Wallaby at mount Elizabeth Station camp site
Mount Elizabeth Station
The wallaby had a joey
Mount Elizabeth Station
Our camp site at Mount Elizabeth

We set up and, following the directions of the lady who signed us in, set off for the Hann River. This was a journey of twenty five miles there and back, but it was worth it as the stretch of the Hann River was lovely. We got there in the latter part of the afternoon and the low sunlight did wonderful things to the colours. And it was a very good place to swim!

Mount Elizabeth Station
Chris, the Hann River and the evening light

The next day we drove to the other highlight of Mount Elizabeth – the Barnett River.

HERE is today’s route with photos. Open with Google Earth.

This involved a drive along a very rough track followed by a walk through the bush – about 7 miles in total. We may have got sweaty but the payoff made it well worth while. We found a wonderful swimming hole and an aboriginal art gallery!

On the Barnett River, Mount Elizabeth Station
The Barnett River at Mount Elizabeth Station. In the wet this would be a waterfall. Note the ladder for the convenience of the hordes of visitors.
On the Barnett River, Mount Elizabeth Station
The swimming hole at the Barnett River, Mount Elizabeth
On the Barnett River, Mount Elizabeth Station
Looking downriver at the swimming hole, Barnett River, Mount Elizabeth

If you walk a couple of hundred yards downstream from the swimming hole, you will find on the cliffs on the eastern side of the gorge some rather unusual aborigine paintings.

On the Barnett River, Mount Elizabeth Station
Aboriginal art in the Wunnumurra Gorge, Barnett river, Mount Elizabeth. This photo is used as an illustration for “Indigenous Australian Art” on Wikipedia!
On the Barnett River, Mount Elizabeth Station
Chris at the Aboriginal art site, Wunnumurra Gorge

We spent several hours at the swimming hole then set off back to the camp site.  A few more people had turned up, including a man who thought that we were insufficiently qualified to be alone in the bush. We had no idea of the dangers we were facing – did we take the track to the Barnett river without deflating our tyres?; did we know what to do if we were caught in a bush fire? etcetera etcetera. We refused to be impressed with his superior knowledge so he gave us up in disgust. Strangely enough he was travelling alone.

El Questro

 2nd to 7th September 2013

On Monday the second we left Lake Argyle and headed for El Questro. You can see our route on the map below. We stopped off in Kununurra for groceries and the internet. We had to move money about. I don’t know how we would manage if we did not have internet access. Fortunately there is a very good community internet facility right next to the visitors centre.

We got to the turn -off for El Questro and met a couple who were turning back because the road was too rough for their camper van. but we found it to be an easy drive with a water splash just before the Resort.

Cambridge Gulf1
Geological Map of El Questro Area with our route from Lake Argyle. Available HERE.

HERE is today’s route with photos. Open with Google Earth.

El Questro was a cattle station of a million acres but now describes itself as a Wilderness Park. It still runs 8,000 cattle but is mainly known as a destination for recreation. This ranges from luxury (and very expensive) at the homestead to a caravan and camp site with toilet blocks and camp kitchens. AND there is private riverside camping where for an extra A$8 per day per person you get no water, no toilets and no cooking facilities, but you do get complete privacy. Water and the other niceties of life can be got a few miles along the road at the caravan park.

And that is what we chose and it was worth every extra penny!

El Questro Campsite
Our expensive campsite at El Questro. Note the toilet facilities on the right.
El Questro Campsite
Another view of our camp site

We were right on the bank of the Pentecost River and just across from us was the territory of a wallaby who grew active at dusk. She had a joey but she did not seem perturbed by our presence.

Wallabies across the river
A wallaby with joey just across the Pentecost river from our camp site.

What did we do at El Questro? You could spend a lot of money on helicopter trips or 4×4 expeditions if such took your fancy but we confined ourselves to the free and cheap end of the available attractions and found that they more than satisfied us.

Our first excursion was to Zebedee Springs which brought back memories of “The Magic Roundabout” but which is in fact a spring of warm water which comes to the surface at a fault between two members of the Proterozoic Kimberley Group (c. 1800 MA) – the older King Leopold Sandstone and the younger Pentecost Sandstone.

Zebedee Springs

There are rather more Livistonia Palms than there is water.

At Zebedee Springs
Livistonia Palms at Zebedee Springs. Spot the water!

It is a pleasant enough place for a brief visit but it soon becomes crowded. The car park is small, perhaps they should make it smaller.

HERE is today’s route with photos. Open with Google Earth.

We also went to Emma Gorge which is part of El Questro even if it is a considerable distance away.

Emma Gorge. Something seems to be wrong with the calibration of the map. I suspect the path should be in the valley!

At Emma Gorge there are luxury tented cabins and a very nice restaurant and coffee shop. I can recommend the coffee and cakes after a walk along the gorge.

The gorge becomes quite narrow and a flood a few years ago has covered the path in boulders so progress is slow and tricky. But it is rather beautiful.

Emma Gorge
Chris near the head of Emma Gorge

At the end of the gorge is a lovely pool in which you can have a cooling swim and, if you go over to the right hand wall, a pleasing warm up where a small hot spring enters the pool!

Emma Gorge
Chris at the pool at the end of Emma Gorge.

As a geologist I was struck by the many examples of ripple bedding I saw in the gorge. I don’t want to clutter this blog with too many photos of what many would consider boring stuff but if you are interested here are some links to the relevant photos on Flickr.


Ripple bedding heaven


Our next gorge was El Questro Gorge which was not far from our camp site.

El Questro
Route to El Questro Gorge

HERE is today’s route with photos. Open with Google Earth.

It may not be far but you have to cross a water splash, which to the untutored eye appears hazardous but, with the truck we had, was trivial. It does look rather good though!

Moonshine Gorge
Chris driving across a water splash on the way to El Questro Gorge

The Gorge does not have high sides but it is very rugged. The most difficult bit is where a huge boulder almost blocks the gorge. You have to wade across a pool and scramble up the side of the boulder. This is where people with young kids stop. We continued.

El Questro Gorge
The Half-Way Pool. You can get up the left side of the boulder.


Beyond the boulder the way is easier but involves lots of boulder hopping. Eventually one gets to the head of the gorge where there is a pool suitable for cooling off.

El Questro Gorge
Chris in the pool at the head of El Questro Gorge.

Other gorges we visited were Moonshine Gorge and a boat trip in Chamberlain Gorge. None of these is particularly impressive but both give pleasant excursions. On our last full day at El Questro we visited both.

Moonshine Chamberlain
Routes to Moonshine and Chamberlain Gorges. There are questions about the northern map sheet calibration. It does not merge well with the more modern southern sheet. And the rivers on the northern sheet seem to be in the wrong position.

Routes to Moonshine Gorge and the Chamberlain Gorge.

Moonshine Gorge
Approaching one of the pools in Moonshine Gorge

In the morning we went to Moonshine Gorge which is quite an open gorge with a creek running along it which, at this time of year, leaves long, linear, pools.

Moonshine Gorge
A tree in Moonshine Gorge

The going is very bouldery, many of which seem to be layered gabbro, but the geological map does not show any likely source. The valley has more vegetation than in some of the other gorges.

The pool at the end of the gorge walk is large and a tempting swim hole.

After lunch we drove to the jetty at the Chamberlain Gorge and had the short cruise along the remains of the river. At this time of year you cannot go far – indeed at one point we had to get off and walk along the shore so that the lightened boat could cross some shallows. In summer I suspect the river might be more challenging.

Chamberlain Gorge-5-Edit
Our cruise in Chamberlain Gorge

Compared to the cruise on Lake Argyle this was much less professional but still a lot of fun. No swimming – salt water crocs have been seen in the gorge but we did see fresh water crocs, a turtle, hand caught a barramundi and coaxed several seven spotted archer fish to perform. These fish catch insects by spitting water at them, to down them, while they fly. Fish food acts as a surrogate for the insects and they can spit considerable distances. The best technique is to present the fish food in front of your neighbour so that they get wet rather than yourself.

The next day we set off for Mount Elizabeth.