Gorge Country in Western Australia
Gorges in The Kimberley
The central and southern parts of the Kimberley plateau form a rugged area of wide rolling savannah plains crisscrossed with rugged mountain ranges.
With six national parks, mostly accessible only in the dry season with 4 wheel drive vehicles, it has a wide natural diversity, with tropical tidal rivers to the north, and the vast expanse of the inland Tanami desert to the south. The spectacular scenery of rugged high cliffs, dramatic waterfalls, gorges, savannah and rain forest is said to have inspired Baz Luhrman to make his recent film 'Australia', much of which was shot on location in the Kimberley.
One of the last great wilderness areas of the continent, there is only one major sealed road through the Kimberley, the Great Northern Highway, which is open throughout the year. The unsealed Gibb River Road, a former drovers track, is the other major transport axis linking the huge cattle stations of the central Kimberely - some of which are bigger than Belgium - but the road is closed during the Wet.
The major entry point for east Kimberley is Kununarra, Australia's youngest town which until 40 years ago was little more than a hamlet. Now, with a population of 15000, the town is growing rapidly.
Nearby, Lake Argyle
covers an area of 1000 square kilometres and is classified an inland sea. The new wetlands of the Lake Argyll, Lake Kununarra and the lower river Ord provide ideal habitats for birds, both resident and migratory, and are easily accessible for bird watchers. Brolgas and bower birds, spinifex pigeons and kookaburras are numerous, and the Ord river trip from the Argyle dam down to Kununarra will give glimpses of the other rich flora and fauna of the area, from rock wallabies and fresh water crocodiles, to fruit bats and screw palms.
A five hour drive south from Kununarra (the last section on unsealed roads so a 4 wheel drive is obligatory) or an hour's flight over Lake Argyle takes you to one of the most spectacular national parks at Purnululu
. Here the unique rock formations of the Bungle Bungle Range, which resemble a squad of giant bumble bees head down in the rolling savannah are some of the most extraordinary sights of the Kimberley. Formed by eroded sandstone mounds, some of which are nearly 200 metres high, the high chasms and hidden caves of the park are bigger than most cathedral naves. There are campsites for those arriving with their own vehicles and a permanent tented safari camp for those visiting with guided tour groups.
In the central Kimberley, where the distinctive silver boabs stand like sentinels across the rolling golden savannah, many of the most beautiful gorges are hidden deep in the private land of the cattle stations.
The Bell River Gorge
though, just off the Gibb River Road in the central Kimberley is a magnificent cascade some twenty metres high which always has water even in the dry season.
In the western Kimberley, some 200kms from Broome on an unsealed road which can have bad corrugations - a 4 wheel drive is advisable but not obligatory - the 3.5 kilometre long Windjana gorge
, has been carved through the Napier range over the millennia by the fast flowing Lennard river. Now a National Park, the stark high cliffs of the gorge range from 30 metres to 100 metres in height, and on the wide sandy beaches beside the river large numbers of fresh water crocodiles sun themselves nonchalantly, oblivious it seems to the visitors walking close by. It is well worth taking the 3.5 kilometre trail by the river through the gorge which has lovely views, especially at sunset.
Some twenty kilometres further south the Tunnel Creek National Park
is an ancient limestone range honeycombed with passages and caves. In the 1880s it was the hideout of one of the last Aboriginal freedom fighters called Jandamarra who raided outlying farms and police stations in the Kimberley. Betrayed ironically by an aboriginal tracker, he was shot down at the entrance to the 750 metre long tunnel which gives the park its name. A torch is necessary to explore the passageway, which leads through pools of water to the other side of the range, the rounded water smoothed rock veined with quartz casting bizarre reflections from fissures which reach to the surface above.
At the Geikie National Park
, the most easily accessed park of the Kimberley on a sealed road close to the small town of Fitzroy Crossing on the Great Northern Highway, the gorge follows the 30 metre deep course of the Fitzroy river through the limestone of an ancient barrier reef. There are a series of walking trails to vantage points on the gorge, and boat trips along the Fitzroy are available, usually with indigenous guides who have been authorised to take visitors to certain sacred Aboriginal sites.
Gorges near Ningaloo Reef
While the Kimberley is known for its stunning gorges, it is not the only place you can find dramatic canyons and ravines which can be explored by canoe, boats or on foot. Near Exmouth and the Ningaloo Reef, Cape Range National Park
is a great place to combine some outback walking and wildlife spotting with your marine adventures.
At Mandu Mandu gorge
there is an excellent chance of spotting the rare black-footed rock wallaby gazing silently down at you from its cliff-side eerie; or learning about the region's ancient geological and aboriginal history including a nearby cave where the world's oldest necklace was recently discovered.
Karijini National Park
, a day's drive inland from Exmouth, is also known for its deep gorges, best explored on a rock climbing or abseiling tour before cooling off in one of the many hidden swimming holes.
Mike Zerbes - Guide, Sal Salis Wild Bush Camp
"Ningaloo Reef is one of Australia's best-kept secrets"
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