13,881 kms, 42 degrees C, 7 snakes
We left Drysdale River Station on 31/8 and headed for Manning Gorge. The roads are still rough – we were lucky that we chose to stop and the junction of the Gibb River and Kalumburu Roads and noticed the indicator/number plate hanging off the rear bumper by the electric wires. We took them off to be fixed in Derby – we couldn’t get thro the chassis to re-attached the bolts rattled loose by the corrugations, which is pretty normal on this road.
We had tapped the word of mouth grapevine about Manning Gorge at campsites around the country. We had been told the waterfalls were dry but that it was still worth a visit as the waterholes were awesome. All of that advice was true. We set up camp under a boab tree, serenaded by cockatoos (check out the video) – how Australian, er WA is that? We got to Manning around midday, and spent the arvo sheltering from the heat, which is getting unbearable. The main walk is to the “falls” – we took this on at 6.15am. One challenge is the short swim across to the start of the walk, with our stuff in polystyrene boxes (video and picture below). The walk, views and dips were all great, and we saw some groovy lizards and a couple of yellow spotted monitors.
Mornington Wildlife Camp is heaven for wildlife and bird lovers. It is one of 20 or so properties owned and run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. They run amazing research projects into land management for the conservation of wildlife, much of it endangered or critical. One great example of the Gouldian Finch – once populous across the top end, now down to around 2500 birds. AWC are confident that thro their research they might have found out why the birds are struggling and have put a potential solution in place – don’t burn too often, give the ground time to recover, especially the spinfexes which need 3 years to seed and is a vital food source for the Gouldian in November.
We toddled off on a 5.45am twitchers tour and were amazed to see a number of Gouldian Finches. There was a little puddle under Nicky’s camp chair, she was soooo excited. The photo to the left might not win any prizes but it shows a red faced male, one of probably only 400 in existence. Nic also saw a purple crowned fairy wren, another amazing endangered bird and another little puddle.
After Mornington we headed for the Silent Grove campsite, via Imitji roadhouse. We had been told by travellers all the way from Port Douglas that the coffee (the only “real” coffee on the GRR) and kangaroo pies were great at Imitji – so we tried both, and yes, they are truly wonderful. Silent Grove is the most inappropriate name for a campsite with lots of cockatoos and corellas – they are soooo noisy. And it was anything but silent in the evening when a 2m king brown snake slid across the camp, about 5m from our set up! We warned those camping around us, none of whom were auzzies – the germans and dutch were particularly “toey”.
Silent Grove is the launching pad for the glorious Bell Gorge, which we nipped into and had a welcome dip. The heli bypass was a bit low – below the gorge walls.
Next stop was Windjana Gorge and its sister attraction Tunnel Creek, complete with very noisy fruit bats (see video). The creek is a 2km underground walk with torches and swimmers - it was great to get out of the 40+ heat for an hour. Windjana Gorge is a dramatic vertical gorge that used to be a coral sea, millions of years ago – the coral is clear to see, just with no water and lots of boab trees on it. We sat out the arvo sun and went in at 4pm - the place is stocked full of freshwater crocs. We must have seen 30 in the space of 1km. We didnt swim!
As you are reading this we are in Derby - civilisation, well as close to it as we are likely to get up here. Stuart upset some of the locals on hearing that there is no car wash but 2 prisons, saying, "you must of have lots of crims driving dirty cars then"! The roads and campsites are getting quieter - it is hot, unseasonably so. Some think the wet season is coming in a month early. The grey nomads are certainly heading South in droves - we will be following them soon. We nipped thro the Gibb River much quicker than planned as it is just too hot. We will heading South as soon as we can - next Derby, the Horizontal Falls trip, Broome, across the Pilbara, Exmouth then down the WA West coast.
The wildlife pictures on this blog entry are crimson finch, gouldian finch, agile rock wallaby, skink, brown falcon and grey crowned babbler.