Day 33: 1 July – Boat, plane, bus then bike…back to Derby

Author: Mrs A

After a delicious breakfast of bacon and eggs we again mounted our seats in the jet boat to visit the tides, this time turning the other way, rushing through the small gaps between the bays, shortly after sunrise. Such a stunning location, and one everyone visiting was sad to say farewell to. 

For the cost of $25,000 for 5 nights, you and 11 of your friends could stay out here and have a skipper at your beck and call – 5kg of luggage allowed and 30kg of alcohol….anybody keen for an interesting holiday next year…?

The still early morning waters made for some incredible reflections, which were soon ruffled as our skipper sped the jet boat through the race!7.30am we boarded our little sea plane and took off, taking a scenic route back to Derby airport, and returning to camp.

A truly spectacular area, and so interesting to see. Incredibly remote and not another soul to be seen. Up here it is mostly sharks, dugongs, crocodiles and fish – the islands are very rocky and sparse, holding little to no natural water sources of their own. We flew over a barramundi farm, and back into Derby.

We spent the afternoon making plans for the next leg of our trip, before heading down on our bikes to Derby Wharf for dinner and one of the top end’s famous sunsets over the water. 

Day 32: 30 June: Mudflats and horizontal waterfalls

Author: Mr A

Our day started with a dawn cycle across the mudflats that surround Derby. 

Big Bertha, as I call my big old fat bike, loved ploughing through the dried mud that stretched to the horizon. Quite an eerie landscape. 

The sun climbed up once again into a perfect blue sky, and the mud flats glistened. Miles and miles of nothing but caked mud out to the horizon. 

We were soon back and coking up a BBQ brunch as we had to get ready for our big trip out to…the “Horizontal Waterfalls”. Let me explain..Derby has the second highest tidal changes in the Southern Hemisphere, and we had booked a trip out by seaplane to see them up close. We were waiting to board and the pilot asked for a volunteer to be “co-pilot”. I piped up and was in the hot seat. 

We took off and climbed to 5,500 feet and flew out over some of the 1,000 islands that comprise the Bucaneer Archipelago. Between several of these islands there is a tidal race that is called the Horizontal Waterfall, as up to 5 metres of difference in height can exist between the two sides of the race. We flew over and saw the huge volumes of water pouring through the narrow gap. 

We landed on the water, (odd feeling – our first time in a sea plane)  – I kept well away from the controls, and within a few minutes we were transferred to a powerful speedboat and were racing off to the “falls”. This boat was amazing – it took us up to speeds of 120km an hour and tore across the water towards the gap. Wow what an adrelinin rush as we weaved our way through the maelstrom of water. Back and forwards though the gap we raced, bouncing around like a ….well….fly in a cyclone. 

As the sun started dipping it was time to head to our home for the night on this large houseboat. We were offered a swim in a shark tank. Catherine of course was straight in, well someone needed to man the camera and that was me.

The same sharks (Tawny Sharks) have been fed and handled for 10 years, seeming to enjoy the interaction, or more likely associating human noise with being fed chunks of barramundi!

Dinner on the top deck was freshly caught barramundi for us too, just delicious, and there we are in the middle of this huge wilderness of islands, staring up at the stars and feeling very privileged to be here. 

Day 27: Mornington Wilderness Camp – Sir John Gorge

Distance: 28km return

Total drive time: 2 hours

Author: Mrs A

Apparently today was Sunday, though we have totally lost track of days of the week, and to be honest, it doesn’t really matter! We had a slower start to the day and headed off around 10am to Sir John Gorge, one of the major attractions on the Fitzroy River. Each of the drives throughout the Mornington Wilderness is accompanied by an information book, full of facts and details of the environment we are travelling through. 

Today we learned about the importance of the termites, and how they are responsible for aerating the soils and the breaking down of plant matter, and the damage that feral animals do – particularly donkeys and cattle which trample the soil solid, meaning the delicate ecosystem can no longer maintain roots and plant life, thereby impacting all animals and birds as a result. It’s certainly a harsh environment here – 7 months of ‘dry’ when there is no rainfall, followed by 5 months of extremely hot temperatures and heavy rains (accompanied by high humidity and lots of mosquitoes) and the flora and fauna are well adapted to cope with it, assuming things are not interfered with.

Sir John Gorge was certainly peaceful and very picturesque. We rock hopped along the shore, spotting bird life and admiring the views, but the water didn’t look that inviting to swim in, despite the hot day. There is a plastic canoe you can  paddle here for the princely sum of $185! It is not a big gorge – this seems a bit of a poor deal, and definitely not worth the money, no matter the good cause it goes to! We pretty much had the place to ourselves the whole time, rare for The Kimberley!

We stayed a couple of hours before driving back towards camp, detouring at a waterhole called Bluebush. This was much prettier (as opposed to majestic), sandy beaches surrounded by paper bark trees and pandanus palms and teeming in bird life. It is about 6km down the Fitzroy River from the previous gorge. We lay in the shade beside the water watching the rainbow bee-eaters swooping and diving and trying the photograph the crimson finches which nested in the palms, and I scared a crocodile into jumping into the water on one of my explorations.

We returned to camp to make a hot chilli accompanied by a baked garlic damper on the BBQ, before an earlyish night.

Day 26: 24 June – Mornington Wilderness Camp – Twitching and Packrafting…

Distance driven: 28km

Total drive time: 2 hours

Author: Mr A

What a cracker of a day!! Up before dawn and out on a birdwatching trip, guided by the lovely Sally, an Australian Wildlife Conservation  (AWC) twitcher. She and 20 other staff live here on the property for 7 month sat a time. Most of the staff won’t leave the property for the whole time, given its a 2 hour rough drive just to get back to the rough “main road” then another 3 hours to the closest “town”. Quite a few backpackers among the staff I talked to are looking for a different experience from the usual booze tours down the coast. 

We saw an amazing selection of birds as the sun climbed its way up over endless plains of spinifex, with boab trees standing sentinel and providing great avian lookouts. We learnt about how the AWC is engaged across millions of hectares of NW Australia in a fire management program that ensures there are burns early in the season when the spinifex roots can resist and recover. Basically taking over from what the traditional aboriginal custodians of the land were doing for thousands of years, very successfully. 

Next on the agenda was an hour’s drive out down a rough track with numerous water crossings to reach Dimond Gorge on the Fitzroy River, where we inflated our packrafts and headed off down a fun little rapid and out into this stunning landscape where we were dwarfed by towering cliffs on either side of us. It was truly awe inspiring, to feel so insignificant on the water next to these sheer cliffs rising up 70 metres vertically over our heads. We drifted down the river – when there’s not much current a packraft is not the fastest thing on the water, but we weren’t in a rush, just spinning round admiring the scenery. 

It was soon time for our picnic lunch, up on a rock platform, what a spot. There was nowhere else I’d rather have been, no fancy restaurant could have lured me away from that spot, with a delicious smoked salmon and pasta salad, and a cuppa of course. 

All too quickly we we’re back at our little rapid and had some fun trying to see if we could get back up it. I love these little boats. If we had had our big plastic kayak with with us we would not have been able to get in and out of the water. A big tick for these lightweight boats. At the end of last year an Australian company started up designing their own boats to compete with the much more expensive US market leaders, Alpacka Rafts. Check out We have been very happy with them so far, and Geoff the owner has been super helpful.  They are a little heavier than the US boats, becuase they are double skin to their single skin, but for less than a kilo more, I choose robustness. 

We decided to have dinner in the AWC restaurant as we were pretty bushed, and locally caught barramundi was on the menu. We invited over the couple we had been birdwatching with that morning, they run a sheep farm outside of Bathurst, and all learnt something about the other couples very different lives. That’s one of the things we are really enjoying about this trip – mixing with people who otherwise our lifestyles would not put us at the same table. 

Another sound sleep coming up with the stars shining though our roof hatch…

Day 19: Emma Gorge

Author: Mrs A

We had a lazy start to the morning before heading off in the car back up to the Gibb River Road and backtracking towards Kununurra about 11km to Emma Gorge. 

Emma Gorge is another resort area, predominantly cabins and a restaurant – no camping. In the 1990s it, along with El Questro, was purchased by a couple for $1 million Australian dollars – 1 million acres, a dollar an acre – as Mr A mentioned yesterday. A million was probably small change for that couple, one being an heir to the Penguin books empire in the UK and the other being heir to the Myer department store network in Australia. They built up the business and sold it on for about $13 million in about 2005 to a resort management company which also manages Uluru (Ayers Rock).

Hiking up the gorge

Our visit, however, was not to the resort, but rather the gorge behind it, named after one of the daughters of the original land owners. It does feel somewhat uncomfortable thinking about the ‘owners’ of land around here, given the evidence of the indigenous land custodianship we see about. There is little mention of that here, though we hear there are many discussions happening with the aim of clearing the bad blood between the populations. We have heard of mass murders of Aboriginal people in the Kimberley (like in many areas of Australia) in the 1800s that remain raw.

Our initial impression was that this gorge would be far easier to tackle than El Questro Gorge, with the start of the track being relatively flat and sandy. It soon changed, however, back to clambering over river rocks, often slippery and the pathway challenging to see as it cris-crossed across the creek. As always the scenery was stunning, surrounded by sandstone walls and rocks which had fallen and often showed fossilised ripples from the shallow sea they once made up. The rocks in these parts pre date any life on earth, so other than ripple-rock there is little other fossilised evidence.

As we climbed, the gorge walls began to close in, initially bringing us to a stunning turquoise pool, and then after final clambering, the final pool, with several waterfalls spilling over the sandstone cliff edge into the icy cold water.

We stripped off and waded to knee deep, our lower legs feeling numb, considering a total immersion. Fortunately we were saved by another gorge visitor who told me there was a hot spring waterfall on the right hand side of the pool, with a toasty 30 degrees – perfect! We sat under the waterfall there in total bliss.

Back at camp, I managed to spend a couple of hours painting in the afternoon sun, while Mr A pottered around getting things packed up ready for our departure tomorrow. Unusually we had a little cloud this evening, making for a lovely sunset, and we are about to head over to the resort bar for their BBQ dinner. All is good at El Questro as we prepare to depart.