Monday, June 19, 2017

Devonian Reef National Parks

By Jen.

After Broome, we made our way into the Kimberley. Where the Pilbara might be described as big, red, and beautiful, the Kimberley can be described as big, wild, and dangerous. This section of Western Australia is known for its torrential wet season, its crocs, and its boabs.

We made a pit-stop in Derby, while trying to decide if we would cross the Kimberley via the Great Northern Highway or the Gibb River Road. One would mean nice sealed pavement the entire time, the other dirt roads, probably corrugations, and river crossings. Jonathan had appeared (to me; he disagrees with me) to be pretty discouraged that we wouldn’t be able to do the infamous Gibb River Road since we were 2WD. But, when I looked into it, I found out that high-clearance 2WD vehicles could normally traverse it during the dry season, so we had to make a choice. Finally, we decided that since only the first half of the Gibb River Road held any interesting POIs for us, we would take the Gibb River Road out of Derby as far as the turnoff for the Devonian Reef national parks, then cross over to the highway. Probably just as well that we did that, as just the small bit that we drove was fairly corrugated. It would have been a very long week.

This massive boab is said to have been a place where aboriginal captives rested while their white captors waited for a boat. It is called the Boab Prison Tree. 

Just off the Gibb River Road is the first of 3 Devonian Reef national parks. They are all part of a massive reef (up to 2km deep) that formed hundreds of millions of years ago (Devonian era) and which has now been exposed by the elements in a few locations in the Kimberley. Interestingly this was before the evolution of Corals, so this reef was formed by colonies of bacteria! The first is Windjana Gorge National Park. This has a river that cuts through the reef. In this river, a population of 30-100 fresh-water crocodiles live. I was excited to see these creatures. Jonathan saw one one our way in at a random creek, but he dove into the murky water before I got to see him. It didn’t take long into the walk to spy a croc sitting on the opposite bank.

Windjana Gorge.

DSCN3801It was still fairly early, so they were mostly sunning themselves. These guys are between 2-3m long. They aren’t considered dangerous to humans unless provoked.

Next, We followed the road to Tunnel Creek National Park. Here, a river went underground and created a cave, which later turned into a tunnel when the reef was later exposed. I loved this walk! It is actually a fairly scenic cave with lots of surprises. It is really dark down there, so you have to bring your own light sources, but it is a fairly large cave throughout the entire tunnel, so you don’t feel claustrophobic. The river flows throughout the entire length of the cave, so you have wade in the water occasionally. They had a warning at the entrance about crocs, so it made you a bit apprehensive when you had to wade through the deeper water where you couldn’t see through the water. But, hundreds of people had already made it through safely, so I figured there wasn’t much risk and proceeded carefully.

At the entrance, we were met by this monitor. He was an impressive 70cm long. Jonathan almost stepped on him while the lizard was sunning himself.

Some of the formations in the cave.

On the way back through the tunnel, figuring nothing new would surface, we were surprised to find out the source of the glowing red dots we would occasionally see along the walls at the surface of the water. Jonathan thought it was a fish eye at first, but when he walked closer to one, he discovered that it was actually a small croc! The first one was about 1 meter in length. The second one about 1 foot in length.

Look carefully. Do you see the glowing red dots in the center of this photo? That is the 1-foot croc’s eyes!

Between the 2 hikes, we walked about 4 km, which was about all I could handle on my still-recovering knee. However, I was walking again, so that is something to be thankful for. We called it a day and camped at the nearest campsite. We were a bit nervous about heading further south on that road because there were supposed to a least one permanent water crossings. For them, they recommend going slow in 4WD. We figured we could handle it, but there is always that chance that it would be too deep or too muddy. The first one was shallow with only a small section underwater, no problem. The next day, we crossed two, with the 2nd being pretty large and intimidating. Jonathan plunged forward with decent momentum and careful driving. Without stopping, we saw the bow wave come up and onto the hood with water splashing up to our windows. I was too slow with a camera to catch the waves, as very quickly the waters receded and we were pulling out the other side. Jonathan says the bow wave made it look deeper than it actually was, which he estimates was less than the height of the tires. I would say we have successfully crossed a river!

The last and largest river crossing.

The bow wave rose up to the hood and water splashed onto the windshield.

Then next day we hit up Geikie Gorge National Park at Fitzroy Crossing. This one wasn’t as exciting as the others, but we did find the regular floodings’ heights interesting.

This is where the Fitzroy and Margaret Rivers meet.

This is the informational gazebo at the park. The white placards on the posts signify flood levels over the years. This year’s flood was level with the roof of the gazebo.

Fun Fact: The paper towels here have the same diameter paperboard roll on the inside, but the length of the rolls are are about 2.5 inches shorter than those in the US. Fortunately, this means my fancy paper towel dispenser still works, it just looks funky with a part that wouldn't normally show. The paper towels here also don't have the pick-a-size option. Only one size. However, that isn't as big a deal here, obviously, because the towels are smaller to begin with.

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