Kimberley Adventure Part 3: Kununurra to Broome
On leaving El Questro and heading for Kununurra we decided to take a little detour to see Wyndham, Western Australia's northern-most town. I'm so glad we did because Wyndham was like nowhere else I have ever been and it felt as though we were in some strange post apocalyptic outback Australian town on the edge of the earth. It felt a bit Mad Max to me, but I couldn't really tell you why. Arriving in Wyndham you are greeted by a very large crocodile statue that begs to be photographed - it's really something else! I read that Wyndham attempted to establish itself as the crocodile capital of Australia in order to attract tourism to the town, but I'm not sure that worked out so well.
We visited the museum which was full of weird and wonderful artefacts and the most curious displays. It wasn't just the air conditioning that kept us inside a long while - I was genuinely intrigued by some of the paraphernalia. We then walked down the street and entered a bric a brac store belonging to one of the most memorable characters I've had the pleasure of meeting - Pixie! She was rolling a cigarette when we walked in and proceeded to smoke it behind the counter whilst telling us snippets of her life in Wyndham. She had been there 30 something years and had the most wicked sense of humour. I was absolutely entranced with this marvellous woman and I wish I could find the words to describe her more fully as she was one of a kind. Perhaps a couple of the blurry pictures below might radiate some of her essence.
After exploring Wyndham we headed off for Kununurra, found a holiday park to set up camp in and booked ourselves a river cruise for the next day. It was time to chill for a while after all of the adventures of the previous two weeks! Our Ord River outing took us to Lake Argyle where we hopped on a boat and settled in for a few hours of beautiful scenery and wildlife spotting. We saw plenty of crocodiles, lots of birdlife, rock wallabies, a snake, and the most glorious sunset over the water. It was such a relaxing way to spend a day. Kununurra itself is quite a hip town considering its isolated location and we were surprised to find some lovely eateries (the Pump House was really cool!) about.
From Kununurra we headed back towards the West via the Great Northern Highway and our first stop was Purnululu National Park. Purnululu is home to the Bungle Bungles, a famous geological formation here in Australia. We were excited to go there, and spent all afternoon getting to the park. The 50 kilometres off the main highway and into the park was pretty gnarly and it took us about 2 and a half hours to do it. Yeah, that's a speed of about 20 k's an hour! Haha. Gees. Once we got there it was getting dark so we found our camp and rose early in the morning for our first walk into Echidna Chasm. Wow, now this was awesome! As we entered into the chasm sheer walls rose 200 metres above the earth and converged to form a narrow passageway. The sunlight streaming through the gap lit up the path and made for a beautiful display of colours on the rocks.
After walking through Echidna Chasm we decided to do another walk into Homestead Valley, and gosh, it got incredibly hot! I have no idea what the temperature was that day but I wouldn't be surprised if it was up in the 40's (I'm talking celsius!). The walking path was exposed and I was totally wrecked for most of it so I can't say that I enjoyed the destination all too much - I was a little stressed at the thought of the hot walk back! Good thing I took photos to jog my memory of how beautiful it was. On our return we spent the rest of the afternoon at our campsite, dousing ourselves with water every now and then to keep cool (and to clean ourselves as there were no showers, and nowhere to swim, in Purnululu - not fun in stinky hot weather!)
The next day we headed for the most iconic part of the park - The Domes and Cathedral Gorge. The journey there was like driving into an alien landscape - these huge red and black striped rock mounds covered the landscape, looking like oversized bee hives or haystacks. Walking through the domes was akin to walking through the ruins of a mysterious ancient civilisation. I half expected the rocks to crack open and alien spaceships to fly out them, or giant baby dragons to emerge. Yeah, it's the kind of place that sends a vivid imagination into overdrive! We wandered around this part of Purnululu for a few hours before the hottest part of the day took a hold and forced us back to the car.
It was time to hit the road again so we jumped in the car and readied ourselves for the slow, bumpy journey to the highway. After we escaped the tumultuous track that leads out of Purnululu we headed towards Halls Creek and decided that we'd spend a night in the local hotel. It was way overpriced and the room was pretty shabby but after a few days in the intense heat without showers it felt quite luxurious. At this stage of the trip I was fast becoming weary of camping and was craving a few luxuries like our own bathroom and a bed that I didn't have to climb a ladder to get into (we had a rooftop camper for the trip)! I slept so soundly in that dreary air conditioned room - so, so soundly. And then, the next morning, we were up and at 'em once again.
We had planned to get to Fitzroy Crossing to spend the night, but 100 kilometres out from our destination we got distracted by a sign for Mimbi Caves and decided to check them out. On arriving at the caves tour departure point we were greeted by a closed gate and a sign that told us to wait for a guide. There was no-one around, no phone numbers on the signs, no instructions, no tour times written, nothing. Baffled, we decided to wait 20 minutes to see if anyone showed up. 5 minutes later a car pulled up containing three European backpackers and they asked us what the deal was. We said we didn't know and that we were just going to wait a little while. Lo and behold, 5 minutes later a car pulls up and a man jumps out and asks us if we'd booked a tour. We tell him 'no' and he's like "well I'll take you through if you like." So off we went into the caves! Our guide, Ron, was a local Gooniyandi man and he was full of information about the history of the area and the caves. He told us the story of the caves formation and pointed out features such as Aboriginal paintings and fossilised corals. Not only are the caves a place of great siginificance to the Gooniyandi people but they are also the remains of the 350 million year old Devonian Reef system.
After the caves tour, Ron made us all damper and boiled a billy on the fire, then played us a few tunes on his guitar. He then pointed us in the direction of the women's birthing cave and I was able to explore it with the female backpackers (no men are allowed). It was an incredibly beautiful space, filled with crystal clear water and rock art, and an energy that I can't quite explain. This tour was one of my favourite things that we did on the trip - it was a real privilege to be shown these special places imbedded with history and culture.
After the caves tour it was getting late into the afternoon so we decided to bunker down at the Mimbi Caves campsite. The campsite was only a few months old and the facilities were top notch so we were happy to stay here the night. There were only two other couples there and we shared a campfire under the Milky Way and Ron showed up with half a cow which the men cut into steaks and put on the fire. I stuck to my vegetarian pasta but the hospitality was not lost on me and I enjoyed the evening immensely.
The next day we drove all the way back to Broome. It was stinking hot and the air inside the car was becoming unbearable (remember we didn't have air conditioning!) as the heat from the road came up through the floor. At a service station about 100 k's out of Broome I decided to try my luck at finding a reasonably priced hotel room for the last few days of our trip. As luck should have it I managed to find a luxury resort room at a super bargain price, right near Cable Beach. After 3 weeks of camping I was more than ready for a little luxury. I can tell you with all sincerity that I appreciated every moment between those high thread count sheets and under that hot shower, and in front of that cable TV. Haha!
We spent our time in Broome chilling out and seeing the local sites - chasing dinosaur footprints, wandering the markets, eating delicious food, walking the beautiful beaches, imbibing cocktails and having afternoon naps. I think we squeezed all of the rest and relaxation we could out of those last few days and I can't think of a better place to do it. Broome is such a chilled place and I just loved the vibe up there.
Then, all too soon, our great Kimberley adventure was over and it was time to head back to Perth. It seemed a shame to have to leave the far north so soon, but all of the locals assured us that it would be getting really hot and a little unbearable up there soon enough, so we left knowing we'd squeezed our trip in just before the wet season was to begin. Three weeks is a nice time for a holiday, but it would be really easy to spend a whole season up in the Kimberley, wandering around without a schedule or agenda. We had a pretty tight schedule that we stuck to in order to see all of the things we wanted to see. I wouldn't say we were rushing from place to place (you can try and rush but the roads, heat and landscape aren't going to help you out much!), but in some of the places that we really loved it would have been nice to have had the luxury of time to say 'we might just camp out here for a few days longer.'
The Kimberley is such a special and unique place. The immense spaces, the abundance of life, the magic of the light at dawn and dusk, the cathedral-like gorges, pristine waterfalls and crystal pools are something to behold. There is a familiarity about the land that comes with growing up watching Leyland Brother, Malcolm Douglas and Harry Butler shows when I was a kid, but the sense of vastness, and the spirit of the land is something that can only be experienced first hand. To be in the wild and to feel the power of such a merciless landscape is incredibly humbling. Every ounce of sweat and tears is worth the effort to experience the Kimberley magic. I dearly hope we get to visit again someday.
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