I ease myself out of my swag.
Wriggle, wriggle. It’s not easy to get out of, and I’m trying not to take the whole thing with me. There is some urgency to the maneuver now because I wonder whether I’m going to make it to one of those little green toilet sheds in time.
It was a hot night, and although I really enjoyed looking up at the myriad of stars (particularly shooting stars) I did feel a little bit enclosed in my canvas swag.
Still, I’m not going to tell Dave that, or he’ll call me a whingeing pom.
I also heard dingoes howling, but they sounded far away, and besides they aren’t as noisy as lions and I hoped not as likely to do so much damage.
Anyway, I thought, ‘I’ll give it another go tonight in the swag’.
Other peeps have decided that sleeping under the open sky isn’t for them. I feel a little smug. I can do this swag thing. No problem. But this will backfire on me in a couple of days, and as they say, pride comes before a fall.
Gimme Coffee Quick
It’s 5.30am and people are up helping Choccy get the breakfast things out. Birdsong competes with buzzing mosquitos and the sound of Choccy bashing pans.
The sun rises above Windjana Gorge and a feathery veil of pink draws across the sky heralding another day of heat and blue sky. Soon we shall be walking into the gorge and I can’t wait for my first experience of being in an ancient wonderland so far removed from daily life in the suburbs.
Breakfast is nearly ready. The comforting smell of toast hangs in the still air, and we feast on various cereals, tinned fruit and toast with our tea or coffee.
Someone is laughing and regailing stories about last night’s antics and our trip to Tunnel Gorge, and as we pack up camp the mood is light. We come to grips with rolling swags and dismantling tents to be packed away in the trailer or on the roof of the bus.
Everything has its place and I’m constantly amazed by all the nooks and crannies used to store things, deciding that the customized Adventure Wild coach is a little bit like Dr Who’s Tardis. All credit to Greg and Rory, who are constantly re-designing the custom built All Terrain 4 x 4 Isuzu Turbo-charged tour coaches to be more effective.
Yesterday it felt a little disconcerting being out of my comfort zone, and I think other people probably felt the same. It was as if we didn’t know how to organize ourselves or what we should take on walks, and what we should keep out of our bags for the day on the bus (our main bags are stashed in a luggage compartment), and I seemed to be continually fossicking around like an old woman for something in my bag that invariably was somewhere else.
My toothbrush for instance was last seeing flying into the air in my stuff bag, bound for the luggage compartment, when I thought it was in my day pack – too late to do my teeth this morning. I must get more organised.
Do we need sandals or hiking boots? Will we see crocodiles, what about sun tan cream? These are the questions that I’m sure Choccy is fed up of fielding!
But Choccy is super organized and each morning tells us exactly what’s going on, what to pack and what to expect. She writes the itinerary for the day on the inside glass of the window on the passenger door of the bus, along with what we will need, so by day two we are getting into the swing of things.
When everything is packed we put sturdy shoes on for a short 10 minute walk into Windjana Gorge. This is our first gorge experience and it’s awe-inspiring. I don’t think we can quite get to grips with the towering cliff faces that soar to 100 metres high, or the fact that theoretically we are standing on what was once the ocean floor.
The stillness in the air is cut by birdsong. There’s a certain reverence to the place, a crystal clarity of sound and light within an immenseness that’s hard to capture on film.
The gorge itself is part of an ancient 375 million year old Devonian reef system that spans about three kilometers and was carved by the Lennard River over millions of years. “There are ancient sea fossil imprints on the cliff walls,” says Greg, “and over 100 freshwater crocs are resident in the deep pools of water.”
We see lots of bubbles signifying their presence but no wrinkly snouts – most of us try very hard to spot them, but the crocs will be more likely seen sunning themselves from August to November when the water levels have gone down.
Soon afterwards we’re heading towards the King Leopold Conservation area with vast vistas opening up around us.
There’s no sign of habitation, no people. We pass one car in about 3 hours. There are however lots of Boab trees and their spindly branches look like skeletal fingers, and I think of witches gnarled hands in fairy stories.
As we travel I’m beginning to understand how little I need on a daily basis. It really does fit into one stuff bag. It’s really freeing not to have to worry about make-up, or how my hair looks, or if my clothes are dirty (they are), and what we haven’t got we don’t worry about anymore.
The simple life
Believe me, it’s actually been very easy learning to live without a mirror. And hairdryer? Pah! Who needs one of those?! I’ve even cured my urge to check my mobile for messages knowing there will probably be no personal telephone contact with the outside world (except via two way radio and Satellite Phone on the coach) until we reach Kununurra on day 7.
Intercepting my not very deep thoughts, I see that there’s a practical joke going on. On a constant quest to relieve the boredom of long distances in the coach, Choccy has put a huge fake spider in the sun viser and people are watching it inch closer to the edge, hoping for a bump in the road which will send it shooting into the laps of the two people who are sitting with Greg in the front of the bus.
We are holding our breath with glee! We have become like school kids again!
At about 10.30am we approach Inglis Gap. I’m reminded of the Klein Karoo in South Africa because there are longitudinal valleys between ridges, and the rock looks similar to Cape Sandstone. Rock figs cling to the slopes and there are pandanas and screw palms that jut out from a stream below.
It feels as if we are travelling on the border of a different continent and once again I’m reminded about how far we are from anywhere until we come to a store.
Imintji Roadhouse is about 220 kms from Derby and is a bit of an icon in an area that I suppose you could say is the ‘never never’. It’s a basic supply store with a shady garden filled with Frangipani trees and bright cerise bougainvillea growing along the edge of the store. The managers are pleased to see the 15 of us; they chat, we buy ice creams and we browse around.
Here we will fill up with diesel. “Cheapest along the Gibb River Road,” says Greg.
If you didn’t know that Adcock Gorge was here, you probably wouldn’t find it. It’s about 5km off the Gibb River road, tucked away behind a short but rocky approach and there are water lilies and scratchy pandanus palms lining the route in.
“Don’t touch them,” warns Greg, as we clamber over the rocks, and cross a gully “because they’ll rip you to shreds.” It’s tempting to grab hold of their big sturdy leaves for balance, but we don’t.
Once at the gorge it’s as if we have arrived at the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and it’s so peaceful. We slide into the cool water and swim across to the waterfall under which some of us sit like seals on a rock. I hadn’t anticipated that the Kimberley would be so tropical and verdant, or that there would be this much water but we are fortunate to be here so soon after the wet season which has a huge impact on the waterfall levels and the flora.
We dry off and have lunch before moving on to Galvan’s Gorge which is almost a perfect oval in shape. It’s smaller than Adcock Gorge but it could even be prettier, surrounded as it is by trees, a creek with water lilies and a boab tree catching the light in a picture postcard way at the top of a large waterfall.
The boys jump and dive from a tree that is suspended conveniently over the water like a diving board, while the girls jump off the rocks or go for a walk to view the ancient rock art.
Someone loses their camera and a there’s a big search before we give up on the offending (but essential) piece of digital equipment, thinking that it’s probably been knocked off or fallen off a rock into the gorge. Little do we know, but two weeks later this camera will be returned by another holidaymaker who found it wet and soggy on the ground somewhere. The photos to that date were amazingly retrieved by putting the damp SD card into a ziplock bag with rice.
The Kimberley may be enormous, but strange contracted little miracles do happen.
Manning Gorge Campsite
At about 4pm we arrive at Mount Barnett Station and go to the Manning Gorge camp site situated along the banks of the river. It’s shady, but also dusty and busy and there are lots of Boabs in all shapes and sizes Choccy says it’s probably busy because Bell Gorge and Hidden Valley Campsite are still closed because of the wet, and today there are tour groups jostling for camping space.
We have spaghetti bolognaise for dinner sitting around the camp fire and Greg plays haunting tunes on his Didgeridoo by the light of the moon, as the coal black sky glistens with bright stars.
Tonight I am so tired that I know I’m going to sleep like a baby in my swag despite the brightness of the moon, which is waning but still it’s almost full. It’s like a bulb, but regardless of its beauty, I’d quite like to turn off.
Never mind. Tomorrow is going to be exciting. We’re going to swim across a river, hike to Mannings Gorge and swim under a massive waterfall. I can’t wait.
Dammit though, where’s my toothbrush?
Camping (for a fee) is permitted at a designated camp site at Windjana Gorge. There are toilets, solar heated showers and fresh water. Department of Environment and Conservation. Tel: (08) 9195 5500
Mount Barnett Roadhouse on Mount Barnett Station is about half way along the Gibb River Road. Pay your entrance and camping fee for Manning Gorge here (it’s about 7kms further on to the campsite). Good facilities but bring firewood and drinking water. Tel: (08) 9191 7007
Tunnel Creek is about 35 kilometres from Windjana Gorge National Park. 4WD is recommended. No camping is allowed.
Helpful advice about the Gibb River Road and its attractions
Imintji Store/Roadhouse – Tel: (08) 9191 7471