Northern Safari – Getting There

Perth to Wooramel River Retreat

The plan was to meet at Wooramel River Retreat, 775 kilometres north of Perth on Saturday afternoon/evening.

The drive north along Indian Ocean Drive, through Dongara, Geraldton, Northampton and Binnu was peaceful, relaxing and colourful. Cattle were grazing, chewing their cud in the gloriously green paddocks around Port Denison. Across the Greenough Flats the bright yellow of the canola contrasts with the vibrant green of growing wheat. Like the sheep, the wind blown trees were laying down in the green paddocks. 

I drove through Geraldton at midday (diesel $1.46) and then through the Northampton hills. The view across the Oakabella valley as one crests the hill just north of the Buller River is a sight to behold. A magnificent yellow and green patchwork of canola and wheat.

Wildflowers were everywhere. Masses of pink everlastings before and after Binnu. The white everlastings at Galena extended for many kilometres. The country from Galena to Billabong was carpeted with white everlastings along the highway, into the bush and along the v-drains. From Billabong to Overlander there was a near continuous display of yellow everlastings, both sides of the highway into the bush as far as one could see.

The ‘Waterbirds’ sign on the side of the highway as it departs from the Kalbarri National Park about 19 kilometres north of Galena Bridge has always intrigued me. There are no lakes, rivers or waterholes in the vicinity.

Main Roads WA advises that, although there are no permanent lakes or rivers in the vicinity, two large, low lying areas fill with water after local  rains and attract waterbirds. Who knew?

So the sign hadn’t been placed there as a joke.

The northern bank of the dry Wooramel River was our home for the night. And for many others – a very popular spot. Our particular spot, under a red river gum, was also the home for a number of pink and grey galahs that protested loudly at our invasion of their territory.

It was surprisingly cold, however, we had a good fire.

Wooramel to Cave Creek

As I drove out to the Highway the next morning I counted 80 vehicles camped at the River Retreat. Twenty six kilometres north of Wooramel (Diesel $1.61) , we turned off the North West Coastal Highway onto the Alternative Route to Gascoyne JunctionIt is a big, wide, open road with lots of bends and numerous grids. The ‘Alternative’ refers to not having to go to Carnarvon – a saving of 94 kilometres.

After refuelling at Gascoyne Junction mid morning (diesel $1.68) we drove over the relatively new (2017) Killili Bridge and headed north along Ullawarra Road to the Kennedy Range gorges.

There was time to visit only Honeycomb Gorge. Draper and Temple Gorges would have to wait.

After leaving the gorges it was becoming clear that it would be difficult to make Millstream by dark. When I missed the turnoff to Mt Sandiman and lost another 15 minutes it was time to start calculating an alternative overnight campsite. Somewhere near Nanutarra without actually stopping at that overpriced, sorry excuse for a roadhouse. I had planned our fuel stops to avoid purchasing any outrageously expensive fuel at that rip off location. However, the way events were developing that trap-for-the-unwary-traveller was looming as the most likely destination. A beautiful spot ruined by avarice.

We still had a long way to go through unknown country including the Moogooree Track.

We stopped to chat briefly with the people at Mt Sandiman before tackling the Moogooree Track. Interesting without being too challenging.

From Moogooree through to Williambury and onto Lyndon the track improved greatly. The Towera Road out to the North West Coastal Highway is a beautiful, high speed drive – wide, open and soft. The sun was low in the sky as we approached the bitumen but we were making good time. Then Jeff announced over the radio that he had a flat.

Eventually we got onto the Highway and headed north east to —– somewhere to be decided. As we crossed Cave Creek, about 40 kilometres short of Nanutarra, I decided that the track off to the left would take us to a suitable campsite. Just big enough for four vehicles. Our home for the night among some snappy gums.

Cave Creek to Port Smith

Knowing that today would be a ‘big day’ to get to Port Smith (1000 km) so we would be back on schedule – we had to meet Helen and Scott and Nick, and Carrie at Port Smith and Sandy at Windjana – we were up and away early.

Refuelled at Port Hedland ($1.59).

Port Smith Caravan Park is 20 kilometres in from North West Coastal Highway on a red dirt road. It was dark by the time we arrived. We caught up with Nick and Carrie, and Scott and Helen who had arrived earlier.

Port Smith to Windjana

Next morning we checked out the tidal flats before heading off towards Derby.

The drive to the Kimberley was deliberately planned to be fast paced. While one could spend a lifetime sightseeing the Pilbara and Gascoyne, our aim on this trip was to spend time in the Kimberley savannah and therefore we had little time for more than a cursory look at features south of our main destination.

One item that piqued my curiosity was the line of concrete bases that could be seen to the left of the highway as we drove across the Roebuck Plains. I found a safe spot to pull over.

Not intending to go into Broome, we refuelled at Roebuck Plains Roadhouse.

Highway 1 to Willare is in disgraceful condition. Long overdue roadworks are being carried out but it will be some time before the strip of bitumen is deserving of the title ‘Australia’s National Highway’.

Before heading out along the Gibb River Road to Windjana it was time to visit Derby.

While refuelling ($1.71) I had a long talk with a researcher from Murdoch University who was part of a team studying sawfish in the Fitzroy River. Acoustic tags have been placed on sawfish and listening stations that monitor these tags have been attached to moorings throughout the river. More about this fascinating Project here.

On arrival at Windjana it was a toss up whether to walk the Gorge or drive to Tunnel Creek. There being just enough daylight left in the day, Tunnel Creek won out. I decided to stay in camp and while relaxing under some shade I noticed a vehicle being driven around the campground, as if the driver was looking for someone. Shortly after there was a call over the UHF for Micaela and Jeff. I answered it. It was Sandy. She had just arrived from Broome and been driving around looking for our camp.

The ‘tourists’ were late in getting back to camp. It was quite a cool night at Windjana. Especially for Greg.

Gibb River Road-Mitchell Plateau

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