The tropical north of Western Australia was long regarded as a land for tough characters and adventurers, determined gold prospectors and explorers.
In this region there are only two seasons, not the usual four as in the south. The hot and sultry summer months (the 'wet') with their violent showers of rain and abundantly flowing rivers are followed by the rainless winter (the 'dry'), which is the best time to visit the north.The landscape is patterned by ranges of ancient hills and depressions in the mighty river systems of the Fitzroy in the west and the Ord in the east. Characteristic features are the boab trees with their ability to store water. The great tourist attractions of the Kimberley are the wild gorges. The rock walls of the 10km long Geikie Gorge show a varying play of color, depending on the position of the sun. Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge (a sacred place to the Aborigines) are now under statutory protection as national parks.Western Australia's gold rush began in 1885 in Halls Creek, which preserves some remains from that period. A few kilometers from the town is the China Wall, a quartz formation exposed by erosion. 130km south of Halls Creek - best seen from the air - is the Wolfe Creek meteorite crater, which is over 850m in diameter and 50m deep.Most of Western Australia's Aborigines live in the Kimberley region, in large self-governing Aboriginal reserves which can be visited only with special permission.Characteristic features of the landscape round Derby are the bottle-shaped boab trees, which can store water in their stout trunks. 7km south of Derby is the Prison Tree, which is said to have served as a jail in the early days of the settlements.
The Purnululu (Bungle Bungle) National Park was established in 1987 with the purpose of protecting the Park's various rock formations, flora, fauna and remnants of Aboriginal Culture. The Park offers sightseeing tours for tourists.
In the tropical northeast of the Kimberley region the Ord River has been dammed by the 67m high Top Dam to form Lake Argyle, which has an area of 740 sq.km and stores water for the irrigation of 70,000ha of land during the dry season.Plans for large-scale irrigation schemes were conceived after the Second World War, when great efforts were being made to develop and populate the empty tropical northern regions of Australia. The Top Dam, completed in 1971, created a reservoir nine times the size of Sydney Harbor, drowning whole valleys and turning the summits of hills into islands. The red slopes on the shores of the lake attract birds, lizards and marsupials.From the outset the Ord River project had its critics, and the ambitious plans for large-scale irrigation and a resultant increase in prosperity and population were not realized. From the point of view of tourism, however, the project has been a great success.From Lake Argyle Tourist Village, near the main dam, there are cruises on the lake, angling expeditions and walking trails.Argyle Downs Homestead, a stone house built by the Durack family in 1886 after a two-year trek driving their cattle from Queensland to the Kimberley region, was taken down before the construction of the dam and re-erected as a museum near the tourist village.
Wolfe Creek Crater National Park
1500ha.The central feature of Wolfe Creek National Park is a gigantic meteorite crater 850m in diameter. In this flat and arid desert region there has been little erosion, and the rim of the crater, 50m high, is therefore well preserved. Wind-blown sand has partly filled up the interior of the crater.The crater is named after Wolfe Creek, a winding (usually dry) river to the east.
Windjana Gorge National Park
2100ha.High jagged limestone walls line the gorge cut by the Lennard River through the Napier Range. The hills - remnants of a reef of the Devonian period, when much of the northwest was covered by a tropical sea - rise to 90m above the surrounding plain. During the wet season in the tropical summer the river becomes a raging torrent and floods the national park. The park can therefore be visited only during the dry winter, though even during the dry season the river leaves pools of cool water on the bottom of the gorge. Along the banks of the river are trees, mainly river red gums and fig trees. In the walls of the gorge are caves with Aboriginal rock paintings. In the Classic Face, the north wall of the eastern section of the gorge, the succession of strata in the Devonian limestone is clearly seen.Freshwater crocodiles may be observed in the gorge, which also has a rich and varied bird life. Swimming is usually possible in the pools in the gorge.Unlike the impassable Geikie Gorge (Fitzroy Crossing), the Windjana Gorge can be walked through during the dry season. A 3.5km long walking trail runs along the bottom of the gorge from the camping ground, with ample opportunity for observing birds and flying foxes, and with luck also crocodiles.
Address: Box 65, Broome, WA 6725, Australia
Useful tips: Best time to visit: winter and spring. Access on Great Northern Highway to 42km before Fitzroy Crossing, then unsurfaced track to north, 75km to Tunnel Creek, 38km to Windjana Gorge. Alternatively from Derby on Gibb River Road (150km).
Wyndham (pop. 1330) is the most northerly town in Western Australia.During the gold boom at Halls Creek Wyndham flourished as the port of arrival for great numbers of prospectors. After the gold was worked out the export of beef became the mainstay of the town's economy, but in 1985 the meat works closed down. The population is now declining.The original settlement was round the harbor on Cambridge Gulf; the new town (Wyndham East or Three Mile), mainly a residential and shopping center, grew up on the Great Northern Highway.Wyndham is now a service center for the huge cattle farms in the Kimberley region, the local mine workings, Aboriginal settlements in the area and tourists. The climate is very hot, with heavy rain in summer.In the main street are a number of fine old buildings - the post office, Durack's store, the courthouse.
Features of interest in the area surrounding Wyndham are the Afghan cemetery (graves of the old Afghan camel-drivers) and Aboriginal rock paintings. The coastal lagoons are home to many species of birds. At the Three Mile caravan park is a gigantic boab tree.35km south is the Telegraph Springs Grotto, a rock pool in a beautiful setting, surrounded on three sides by sheer rock walls.The road to Kununurra (see entry; 93km) runs through impressive gorges.From the Five Rivers Lookout in the Bastion Range there are magnificent views of the coast, the gulf, the harbor and a number of rivers.
Halls Creek, Australia
Far north in the Kimberley region, on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert is Halls Creek (pop. 1180), where the first gold in Western Australia was found in 1885. Within two years 10,000 prospectors came to the diggings, but the numbers fell as the yield of gold declined. Halls Creek is now a cattle-farming center.15km east of the present town is Old Halls Creek, with only ruins as a reminder of past prosperity. In the cemetery are the graves of many prospectors and of James Darcey, whose death was one of the cases that led to the development of the Flying Doctor Service.
Near Halls Creek is the China Wall, a quartz formation which has been exposed by erosion.Halls Creek is a good base for visits to Wolfe Creek National Park, 130km south, and Bungle Bungle National Park, 200km northeast on a road suitable for all-terrain vehicles only.
Tunnel Creek National Park
90ha.Here Tunnel Creek has carved out a passage through the Devonian limestone, forming a tunnel 750m long, 3-12m high and 15m wide. A section of the overlying rock has collapsed, admitting daylight and allowing colonies of flying foxes to reach their sleeping quarters in the tunnel. Visitors passing through the tunnel get a close-up view of the strata of fossil limestone. The cool, humid darkness is rather eerie: an electric torch is essential. There are stalactites at various points, and also Aboriginal rock paintings. There are a number of permanent waterholes fed by springs.
Address: Box 65, Broome, WA 6725, Australia
Useful tips: Best time to visit: winter. It is impossible to visit the park in summer, when Tunnel Creek carries a considerable flow of water after heavy rain. Access on the Gibb River Road, 125km east of Derby. Alternatively from the Great Northern Highway on a track which goes off 42km west of Fitzroy Crossing and runs 75km northwest.
Kununurra (pop. 3140), the supply center for the surrounding area (stock farming, irrigated arable farming, mining) and the headquarters of the Ord River Irrigation Project and the Lake Argyle Diamond Mine, lies in the tropical northeast of the Kimberley region.There are fine views of the town and the surrounding irrigated plantations from Kelly's Knob Lookout. The Waringarri Aboriginal Arts Gallery displays Aboriginal arts and crafts.
3km east of Kununurra is Hidden Valley National Park, a hilly region traversed by a number of valleys, with occasional boab trees and eucalyptuses growing on the stony slopes. During the dry winter and spring months the river is dry apart from a few pools and waterholes.There are safari tours and sightseeing flights from Kununurra to Bungle Bungle National Park and to the untouched wilderness of the Mitchell Plateau and the lower course of the Ord River. On Lake Argyle, a huge artificial lake 70km south, is a tourist village (water sports, wildlife viewing, walking).
Fitzroy Crossing, Australia
Fitzroy Crossing (pop. 1030) is a convenient stopover for visitors to Geikie Gorge National Park.During the season there are boat trips on the river.
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