Called, "Smiling at Crocodiles" the article covers camping and touring along Western Australia's Kimberley's 350 million year old Devonian Reef including three of the Kimberley's most accessible gorges - Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek and Geikie Gorge (known as Darngku bu the Bunaba Aboriginal people).
Late in the afternoon photographers gather on the edge of camp amongst the spinifex to capture the setting sun lighting up the sheer cliff face of Windjana Gorge. As the sun dips to the western horizon behind us, the weathered grey rock wall turns to a rusty gold just as it has done for millions of years, and I am awestruck by the scene.
One of most easily accessible gorges along the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, the Windjana Gorge National Park preserves a section of a 350 million year old coral Devonian Reef where the Lennard River cuts through the limestone of the Napier Range. It is regarded by geologists as a classic example of world geology.
The minimal cost Department of Environment and Conservation campground is perfectly located only 500 metres from the Gorge entrance, and arriving mid morning will allow you to find a shady camp site.
There are several walk trails to explore. Informational panels along the one kilometre return Savanna walk trail from the campground to the Gorge tell you about the plants and animals of the savannah woodland. You will see many examples of a Kimberley icon – the boab tree – which stores water in the fibre of its trunk resulting in fantastical shapes as the tree ages.
The dramatic entrance to Windjana Gorge, takes you through a narrow passageway in the cliff face, bringing you suddenly to the river bed flanked by high rock walls on both sides. It makes an unexpected and spectacular entrance.
Once inside the Gorge the shady trail follows the river bank before taking you out onto the sandy river bed. This natural amphitheatre affords a breathtaking 360 degree view of the Gorge which has a “wow” factor that I could not hope to adequately capture with my camera. It was late afternoon when we first visited and the white corellas were screeching through the Gorge to their roosting posts. Be careful not to get distracted and step on a crocodile lying on the sand!
Windjana Gorge is the prime freshwater crocodile viewing area of the Kimberley and they can often be seen sunning themselves on the riverbank, so there is no swimming at Windjana. I was so transfixed by taking photos that I wandered a little too close to one – but he just smiled at me – or was he smiling in anticipation?…. Thankfully freshwater crocodiles, (Johnstoni Crocodile), which live in freshwater and grow up to three metres long, are relatively harmless, unlike his cousin the Salt-Water or Estuarine Crocodile. Although they will bite if provoked!
Below is the opening page of my article - this is a photo of the tree lined creek at the far entrance of Tunnel Creek.
Tunnel Creek is completely dark except at its entrances and halfway point, and involves wading sometimes waist deep through water, so it is essential to be equipped with a torch or headlight and to wear boots or shoes suitable for wading. Turn off your headlight in the tunnel and you will see how pitch black it really is. At the halfway point sunlight streams in through a caved in section of the roof, before plunging you into blackness again.
The trail sign at the start of the walk advises you to be careful of loose slippery rocks, uneven floor and submerged objects. Bats and flying foxes inhabit the tunnel, whilst small fish, and occasionally freshwater crocodiles, live in the permanent pools. Stalactites, stalagmites and other limestone features can be seen along the walk.
At the far entrance is a tree lined creek where you can sit and enjoy the birdlife before going back into the Tunnel for your return. Unfortunately it is the only way to get back to your car!
On our last night at Windjana we were serenaded by soft ukulele music from a nearby campsite and the haunting ancient sounds of a didgeridoo echoing through the still night air. The campfires of Jandamarra and his people have gone, but for visitors today Windjana is still a special place.