Round Australia Road Trip #4
There’s not much at Victoria River! It’s allocated a dot on the map but there’s just a roadhouse with a campground out the back and a massive bridge over the river. It’s not the place we’ve come to see though, it’s the landscape.
The Victoria River has its headwaters in the centre of the Northern Territory and by the time it reaches the north it is wide and deep. In late September at the end of the dry season, the water is well below the bridge but in the wet the level rises dramatically. Sometimes the road is cut by the swelling waters.
The water has carved a path through the sandstone to create Victoria River Gorge, a spectacular landscape of red cliffs lined with ancient Livistona palms, prehistoric relics only found here and in northern Western Australia. It’s easy to see from a distance where the river flows because there’s a bright strip of green along its banks where the vegetation is lush.
The jagged red escarpments continue on the road further west to Timber Creek.
This time, there really is a little town on the Victoria River. Including outlying indigenous communities, the town supports a population of around 320. There’s a hotel, hospital and school, and a choice of two caravan parks. After the basic amenities and red dirt of Victoria Crossing Roadhouse, the Wirib Tourism Park is luxurious. The town sits on the bank of Timber Creek and there’s no shortage of water here. Sprinklers water the thick, green grass every day and there are large, shady trees all over town. They provide welcome relief from the 38 degree temperature during the day.
Just outside Timber Creek, on the banks of the Victoria River, is one particular tree with a story to tell. This ancient boab tree is estimated to be at least 500 years old. It’s sacred to the Ngarinman people who held traditional ceremonies at its base for hundreds of years. It’s also the site of the 1855/56 camp of the explorer Augustus Gregory. The dates of his explorations were carved into the tree by the expedition artist Thomas Baines as a permanent record of their time here.
More evidence of the past can be seen at the Bullita Homestead. The homestead on the Bullita Stock Route was part of the larger Humbert Station and is testament to the pastoralists who settled this area in the 1860s. Now it’s open to visitors who tackle the rough corrugated track for the 42 km it takes to get there. The homestead is a four room corrugated iron building on the banks of the Baines River and photos inside show what life was like in the 1960s. The abundant water supply meant the people who lived here were able to grow their own vegetables and fruit and the house is surrounded by large boab trees and eucalypts.
The power of water is also evident at Limestone Gorge, another stop on the Bullita Stock Route. Over millions of years, weathering caused by naturally occurring acid rain has created distinctive ripples and undulations in the limestone.
After an afternoon’s adventuring on the track, we’re back in Timber Creek in time to drive up to the lookout to watch the sunset.
The sun goes down fast here but long after it’s gone the sky is filled with colour. It’s reflected on the waters of the Victoria River and glows off the red sandstone of the escarpments. It’s a landscape worth driving to see.