When we left Bell Gorge, it was a great relief to get off another really bumpy road, and back onto the (relatively speaking) better quality of the Gibb River Road. The drive to Windjana Gorge was not far now, but we stopped for lunch at a rest stop beside the Lennard River. We had passed Lennard Gorge, Adcock Gorge and Galvins Gorge along the way, but didn’t find out till later, that they were easy to get into and quite picturesque. Oh well, we have to leave some reason to return to this area at another time…
The drive to Windjana Gorge and campsite was uneventful, although we are getting a bit over dirt roads after 10 days of constant shaking. We set up camp and lazed around for the afternoon, knowing that our friends, John and Lyn would pull into camp sometime.
Early the next morning we completed the walk through Windjana Gorge. This area is significantly different from every other gorge along the GRR. To start with, the gorge follows the Lennard River through a series of limestone cliffs, rather than the sandstone we have become accustomed to. At the end of the walking track, it just stops. It doesn’t reach a pinnacle, or enclosed rocky gorge, but instead just stops suddenly. AS we walked along the track, we were rewarded with many freshwater crocodile sightings. We saw 26 crocs on the walk into the gorge, and 32 on the way out. We also saw a fruit bat colony among the paperbarks, and many archer fish in the water espying their insect prey above the surface and shooting them with jets of water. They are amazingly accurate and can fire this water jet up to 2 metres.
The limestone cliff walls display the characteristic signs of stalactites and stalagmites growing on their surfaces. This is the sort of thing you can usually only find inside limestone caves, so it was most unusual to observe it on the cliff walls. The limestone also houses many fossilised animals and insects, and one part of the walk reveals these treasures up close. The kids had a great time looking for fossils among the rocky cliff surfaces, and managed to find a few.
Note: There are 5 freshwater crocs in this photo alone!
After lunch back at the tent, we set off to look around Tunnel Creek, having heard from many travellers that this is a MUST-SEE destination. It is 35km south of the Windjana Gorge campsite, and the only facility is a toilet near the entrance. We had some expectations, based on the things we had already heard, but found ourselves quite unprepared for how amazing this site really is.
We climbed down through the rocks towards the entrance and we greeted with a wide open chasm with a large swimming hole and a rocky track off to the right hand side. We followed the sounds of other walkers along the track, until we came across our first opportunity to cross the creek. We were warned that this would happen, but that did not diminish the ominous feeling standing there on the small sandy beach, looking into the dark water of unknown depth, with torches that suddenly felt too dim and contemplating which way to go. Fortunately, a couple came back the other way, showing us where to step and how deep the water was. We quickly became accustomed to the cool water temperature as we found our way along the dark tunnel, crossing the creek several times, and arrived at the mid-point where the roof has collapsed.
The sudden burst of sunlight into the cave provides a view of the fruit bat colony living on the stalactites hanging precariously from the cavernous ceiling. Continuing our journey, the creek became deeper (about one metre), so our nether regions got a taste of the cool water also, testified to by the shrieks emanating from the suddenly frozen children. This was the deepest water crossing and the end of the tunnel was in sight ahead of us. We were approaching midday, and had almost reached the end, when a beam of sunlight shot down from an opening in the roof. Awesome! It felt like this little sojourn had been blessed by God himself.
Once we exited the cave, we turned left as advised and discovered some aboriginal rock art high on the cliff faces to the side. The major discussion at this point was “How did they they paint that, way up there?” theories abounded, but Connors offering was the best - “They floated past on canoes in the wet season, painting as they went.”
Our next decision was to either follow the walking track through the surrounding bush, or walk back through the cave again. There was no votes for the walking track. Tunnel Creek is definitely a MUST SEE destination.
We returned to camp for lunch, and were lazing around afterwards, when John and Lyn arrived. It is always fantastic travelling with friends, and we have thoroughly enjoyed having this remarkable couple around for quite a while now. We have managed to take them a few places they might not have seen otherwise, and today was to be another adventure for them. Off to Tunnel Creek we went for the second time….
We have taken 10 days to cross the Gibb River Road, including Mitchell Plateau, but we could easily spend more time completing the journey. There is so much more we could have done, but we have left it for NEXT time! Timing is an essential part of planning this journey, and we arrived at the end of the tourist season, when there were fewer people around and less water in the river crossings. Earlier in the year, it would have been a completely different trip, and probably a lot more stressful.
I hope you have enjoyed reading the 4 instalments of this journey. As we continue our trip, there will be plenty more to whet your travelling appetite…..