Round Australia Road Trip #9
After the disappointment of not seeing Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater, we continued our journey west to Fitzroy Crossing, halfway between the Western Australian border and the coast. This small town sits of the banks of the Fitzroy River, one of Australia’s longest rivers, carving a path 733 km from the King Leopold and Meuller Ranges to the ocean at King Sound. The Fitzroy river has combined with the Lennard River and Tunnel Creek to create dramatic landscapes in the limestone of the West Kimberley region.
About 350 million years ago during the Devonian period, the northern part of Western Australia was covered by a vast tropical ocean. A 1000 km barrier reef of limestone was laid down and, as the waters receded, the reef was exposed and eroded by wind and water. The Napier Range, a rugged wall of limestone 350 km long, is all that remains of the ancient Devonian Reef and there are three national parks where it can be seen: Geikie Gorge, Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge.
We started our exploration of the Devonian Reef not far from Fitzroy Crossing at Geikie Gorge, with a walk and a boat cruise. We followed the Bun-Gu Track along the bank of the Fitzroy River to its junction with the Margaret River. At the end of the dry season the river is dry in places while elsewhere there are deep, still waterholes.
It was on one of these waterholes we set sail for an hour long cruise with a park ranger, and it was so large we didn’t realise at first that the water wasn’t actually flowing. We sailed into the gorge and our guide skilfully edged up close to the limestone walls, carved into twisted, curving shapes. Although it looked sharp, the limestone was worn smooth.
With such an abundance of water, Geikie Gorge is a haven for flora and fauna, including freshwater crocodiles sunning themselves on rocks warmed by the heat of the day.
We needed a full day to visit to Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek and, with a predicted maximum temperature of 40 degrees Celsius, we started early. It took us nearly two hours to negotiate the 146 km of unsealed road which runs alongside the Napier Range to the start of the gorge.From the carpark a path led through a tiny gap in the limestone before opening out into a wide open space with the range on one side and the broad sandy river bed on the other.
At the end of the dry season all that was left of the river were a few small waterholes. At first we saw only one crocodile, but as we rounded a bend in the track there were dozens basking in the sun.
Other wildlife had gathered here too. Little Corellas sat high in the branches of the paperbark trees, butterflies rested in the cool of the overhanging rocks and a lone waterbird waded in the shallows.
There is evidence on the walls of the gorge of past inhabitants, with fossilised nautiloids embedded in the stone.
Tunnel Creek National Park is about 50 km back from Windjana Gorge on the same dirt road. The caves here are the oldest in Australia and were formed as the water of the creek created an underground channel through the limestone. For this walk we needed our torches because the track went underground. The waterholes at this time of year were shallow and although they’re home to freshwater crocodiles and fruit bats we didn’t see any.
The entrance to the cave is almost hidden by boulders long since broken away from the cliffs and we had to climb up and over them to get in. Once inside the cave opens out into a cool dim space, with only the light from the entrance to guide the way.
Mostly we were able to walk along the edge of the creek but twice we had to wade knee deep through the cool water of the creek. At the centre of the cave, 750 metres from the entrance, the roof has collapsed and natural light floods in, showing up the stalactites overhead. We could barely see where the rock walls ended and the reflection began in the mirrored surface of the creek.
The cave continued for another kilometre but we didn’t venture any further. The water looked deep, we could hear bats up ahead and, although they aren’t a threat to people, I didn’t want to come face to face with a crocodile!