Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Day 9/10 - East Kimberley

Despite the many warnings and worries, I'm pleased to announce that we've now enjoyed -- and survived -- five swims in the Kimberleys. This is an important achievement for two nature-loving travellers who delight in the pleasure of swimming in the wild. Our greatest dread about the trip through the Kimberley was not being able to find anywhere safe to swim. Of course everyone has suggested we ask the locals regarding safety and crocs, which we do. But for as many people as you ask, that's how many opinions you get on the matter. Some say, no problem. Others take a defensive stance: "Do so at your own risk". The guy behind the desk at the Halls Creek Visitor Centre even went so far as to throw up his hands (as though we were going to attack him or something) and say, "Hey, I can tell you there are no crocs, but you may find something different and then come back and sue me." OK, we get your point.

Since our two sweet soaks in Broome seawater, we've enjoyed three recent fresh water swims. The first, yesterday, was just out of Halls Creek (we assumed the Visitor Centre clerk knew something when he implied there were no crocs at the local swimming hole). Caroline Pool is six kilometres east of Halls Creek down a corrugated dusty dirt track. It appears the 'wet season' died an early death in the Kimberley as most of what we've met so far has been pretty parched. Caroline's Pool is a small oasis in this dry landscape, a semi-clear pool fed by a local creek. Footprints on the beach suggested it was frequented as a local's swimming haven, so we stripped down and lowered ourselves into the sandy shallows. We didn't venture much further than that, however -- the sub-clause of the visitor centre man's advice was sitting in the background of our thoughts. Still, it was nice to get wet.

The second dip happened when we hit our camping spot 100kms north of Halls Creek. Another 24-hour free roadside rest stop, we discovered a side road that went east from the camp. It appears the road was an old section of the highway, which dipped down into the steady flowing waters of the Ord River. In the truly wet season, it would be inundated now, but with the current dry spell the road sat above it and the river flowed gently through the culverts underneath the road. When we first arrived, we saw what appeared to be locals in two 4WDs happily plunged into the river. So we too had a go. So nice to lie submerged in the warm flowing water after another sweaty hot day.

After the swim we venture further up the road, which winds for a couple of kilometres before veering back towards the highway. We walk the highway back so we can go over the Ord River bridge, constructed in 2003. It offers great views of the wide sandy river below, but no crocs in sight.

The countryside north of Warnum, a tiny Aboriginal settlement another 60kms up the highway, turns into classic Kimberley outback: rolling hills and rock escarpments and some higher ranges -- the first real 'mountains' we've seen this far north. Postcard perfect, the views are enough to keep us entertained for the entire three hour drive to Wyndham as we cruise along in silence.

Wyndham is the northern most town in W.A.Situated on expansive mudflats that edge onto the Cambridge Gulf (north of here is the Timor Sea and Indonesia), the town was created as a port for a boom/bust gold rush that happened briefly in the late 19th century. Since then it's struggled to find an identity and hasn't quite stepped up to the challenge of joining the Kimberley tourist industry. But we found it utterly charming. Natural, unadorned, unpretentious. Surrounded by long stretches of coastline, estuarine lowlands and classic Kimberley escarpments in the distance. The views were breathtaking, made all the more impressive seen from the top of the "Five Rivers Lookout" point above town. We parked for a quiet lunch in a carpark that was built to hold hundreds of eager tourists in the high season. Travelling off season may have its downsides, but the pleasure of having popular sites all to ourselves makes it well worth it.

We're keen to explore the Parry's Lagoon Nature Reserve -- another top birding spot just south of Wyndham. But (and this is the downside of travelling off season) the road is closed, not yet graded after the wet season. So again we must let this one go.

Our final stop is the Grotto, 50 kms back down the highway towards Kununurra. The short steep paved road ends at a carpark (empty...again) and an unassuming hilly landscape. We make our way down the path and soon discover steps that cut into the side of a deep gorge. 120 steps down and we arrive at one of those most idyllic Kimberley destinations: the deep water hole tucked between two vertical walls of a red rock canyon. Assured by both our guidebook and the young lady at the Visitor Centre that its croc safe, we strip off and take the plunge. It doesn't get better than this. Dangling limbs of trees and roots drip a steady cadence of water and at the far end is a waterfall, gentle enough to stand under.

Cooled, refreshed and contented we make our way to Kununurra as the afternoon light accentuates the ruddy landscape. We find a caravan park site on the lake where we pull out our chair just in time to enjoy our evening ritual of beer and snacks and the evening sun on a distant ridge.

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