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Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Gibb River Road: 4 - Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge

Derby: Via Tunnel Creek and Windjana [Gibb River] (Western Australia)
Distance Travelled:

Crocs spotted
21 (plus another lurking in waters of Tunnel Creek)

Waking up the next morning, we were greeted by a slightly frosty new day. Unfortunately, we’d all had a fitful night’s sleep, due mainly to the persistent hacking cough emanating from a toddler in one of the gargantuan trailers to our right… (at least it helped up get an early start when she started mewling and squawking at 5am). Daniel was a little out of sorts this morning, telling us after a fashion that he still felt like he had sand in his eye. Nat and I both checked him out and washed his eye with water. But, since we couldn’t see anything in there, we concluded that he had probably scratched his eye the night before and it was now feeling irritated. He seemed to settle down after a bit of TLC, so we pressed on with the adventure we had planned for the day.

Packing up and heading down the road, our first stop was to be Tunnel Creek – a mere 70 kilometres westwards along the Gibb from Silent Grove. Having finally got the measure of travelling on this bumpy byway, we powered down the track in a shorter time than we had on our inwards journey. So, after a couple of hours, we pulled up at the turn off to the road heading down to Windjana and Tunnel Creek.

We still weren't sure if this road had been opened ye. But to our delight and gleeful surprise, we found that indeed the road were clear! Gone were the make shift barricades of tree branches and 'CAUTION' tape. Gone were the mounds of dirt covering the entrance, with a small, beaten up metal sign saying 'closed' sticking out if it. So, off the main road we turned and we begun barrelling down the track as fast as our little tyres could take us.

As Tunnel Creek was the furthest away, we decided to head there first.

Tunnel Creek - Here we come!

Arriving at the car park, we realised that we’d forgotten to pack our reef shoes amongst the possessions we brought with us on the Gibb. It was a bit of an oversight, but we decided to tough it out anyway. Picking our way down to the Tunnel Creek entrance, we removed our shoes and plunged into the deep darkness under the mountain. Well, I say plunged, I really I mean ‘had to wait for 5 minutes as a group of oldies (knees creaking and legs shaking) crept their way like tortoises out of the narrow cave entrance”. But, ‘plunged’ certainly sounded more dramatic.

Tunnel Creek

Tunnel Creek itself was a pretty cool place. Over millennia, a small creek has carved its way through the tough mountain stone, until it eventually broke through to the other side. The river continues to flow through the tunnel today, chipping fragments of rock slowly from the side of the cave, widening it one grain at a time. The ground underfoot was a mixture of coarse sand, gravel and shells. Occasionally a maze of sharp rock appeared, with foot worn paths snaking their way through. The going was a little tough on the feet – particularly as the boys and I had had chosen to go barefoot (we quickly realised that thongs/flip flops/jandals, weren’t going to be up to the job of wading through deep water). However, Nat had the presence of mind to don her walking sandals, so she fared better than us.

Tunnel Creek - Barefooted!

Still, the experience of walking through this wide cave, with its stalactites and underground waterfalls was engrossing. We soon forgot about our aching feet (which were now pretty numb from the cold water anyway). Peering into the depths of the water at the edge of the underground river, little reddish-yellow eyes peered back at us from the darkness; illuminated by the dim lights of our fading head torches. Small bats chirped and swooped overhead as they dive bombed through teams of flying insects near the cave mouth.

Tunnel Creek - Under ground waterfall

Halfway through the tunnel, the roof opened out and the sky could be spied peeking down from above. This wasn’t a recent collapse – rather, it seemed to have happed many years ago; with plants now merrily living in this oasis of sunlight, with their roots stretching out into the darkness of the cave river’s water.

Tunnel Creek - Oasis of light

Pressing on, we waded through thigh deep water (well, my thighs, but Daniel’s belly button), until we burst out of the other side of the tunnel. The river didn’t stop here though, rather it continued its journey onwards through the gorge and out into the warm sunlight. We spent a little time here in this quiet place. Most of the other tunnel walkers stopped and turned back at the oasis section, so we had it largely to ourselves. Sounds of birds chittering and calling rose above the background noise of babbling water. The boys spent their time picking their way around the river rocks, until we eventually turned and made our way back through the cave.

Tunnel Creek - the other end...

Warming up in the sunlight, it was good to get our shoes back on and be able to walk comfortably over the rocky path to the car. A quick bite to eat later and we were off up the road to Windjana Gorge.

Windjana gorge - abandon hope all ye who enter here!

Windjana gorge is a 3.5km long canyon, where the Lennard River has carved itself way through the limestone of the Napier Range. To add to it’s beauty, the range itself is part of an extensive fossilised barrier reef, which was laid down way back in Devonian (circa 360 million years ago).

Windjana Gorge – Devonian reef frozen in time

Not only was Windjana renowned for its beautiful scenery, high cliffs and wide sandy river bed; it was most well-known for the abundance of wildlife inhabiting this sheltered place. Sure, there were dragonflies and birds aplenty – but, what most people came here for were the Crocs! Dozens of freshwater crocodiles filled the gorge – some floating like logs in the water, others sunning themselves on the banks. But, all of them were watching us watching them…

Windjana Gorge – There be crocs in them thar' waters!

Unfortunately, as we were pressed for time (and Daniel’s eye was still giving him grief), we couldn’t walk the full track of the gorge today. Rather, we wandered along the sandy trail for an hour or so, until the gorge widened out and the path headed up into the hills. This meant that we didn’t get to see as many crocs as have been documented in other people’s blogs (like our friends from Morrows Westward Adventure, who counted over one hundred!); but, with a tally of 21, we were pretty satisfied.

Back in the car, we were all feeling pretty tired from the effort we’d put into seeing four gorges in two days. So, the rest of the journey back down the Gibb was passed in quiet contemplation. Daniel was still a little restless due to his eye and Nat and I were starting to get a little concerned about his level of discomfort. As such, we were keen to get back to civilisation and have it checked out. So, we all hunkered down to cross off the last 100kms back to Derby.

Hitting the bitumen, we picked up speed and made it back to town by late afternoon. Before turning into the caravan park, we made a pitstop at Derby Hospital, where Daniel spent half an hour with his new best friend, Dr Issacs, who eventually removed a hunk of rock (well, a hefty piece of grit at least) from under his upper eyelid. It turns out that this shard of irritation had scratched his eye, so he was prescribed cream and drops to help heal up. Daniel waved goodbye to Dr Issacs and left the hospital. Getting back in the car, he was still clutching a specimen jar with his very own piece of the Gibb River Road as a souvenir.

Our camper trailer was waiting for us safe and sound in the Derby caravan park. It seems that the police surveillance cameras and their increased patrols around the park had put an end to the night time shenanigans of the week before. As the sun went down, we set up our trailer and realised we were all desperately in need of a shower. it was great to be able to wash away the dust, sweat and grim of our Gibb tenting adventure, before hopping into bed for a good night’s sleep.

Bye ‘d bye,


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