We stopped at Leonard Gorge and went for a hike in the mid-day sun. The sun beat down; sweat poured off of us and we lost the path. Whose idea was this? Luckily, we met another family on the same walk, shared our water, found the trail and became friends along the way.
They’d left their hometown of Bunbury when it got “too busy” seven years ago and had been traveling, on and off, ever since. K ran ahead with the two boys, her face like a beetroot in the heat. When we got to the gorge, there was no waterfall running and no place to swim. The last wet season in the Kimberley saw little rain.
“Why did we come here, Dad?” one of the boys asked. A reasonable question.
“Just a healthy walk, son. There’s not a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow.”
The boy seemed satisfied with this answer.
In 35 degree heat the boys and K proceeded to run up the hill, down the hill, over the boulders and all the way back to the car. The parents and little ones followed behind. They told us about a free camp at Bell’s Creek with swimming and we followed them, but they soon drove ahead of us. When we drove past the turn-off, the dad hopped in his car and drove after us. We were grateful, as it was a lovely spot, right by a bubbling brook.
That evening we had a “bush bath” in the creek, which was running, but didn’t go too deep, for fear of freshies.
That night K helped the boys put up their swags and R played with their four year-old sister. The boys had a wonderful sense of adventure and were completely adept at all things camping—building fires and the like. They made us look like amateurs.
It was only us two families in this magic little free camp. The stars were bright and the next morning we were awakened just before dawn by two barking owls (dingo birds). I got out of the tent and saw one perched on a gum tree—magnificent.
The next morning we drove to Bell Gorge, where we walked in and had a swim in one of the most spectacular gorges on the Gibb River Road. This place, too, is full of birds, including the stunning rainbow bee-eater.
We stayed three nights at Silent Grove, a busy campsite close to the gorge. We spent hot days down at the massive swimming hole. The rocks were slippery and K liked to “skate” down them, into the cool water.
One day, K and I ventured further down the river and swam through a large pool, over some small falls and then through another pool, feeling like explorers. There were no other people. Then we got to a waterfall that dropped into another massive gorge, nearly as large as Bell Gorge, but I couldn’t see a way down the sheer rock face. On our way back, we saw two goannas basking on the rocks and there was a small snake in the water, which we swam quickly past.
Charnley River Wilderness Camp
Bell Gorge was stunning, but busy and filled with tour buses. We were determined to get off the main drag and find some place with fewer people and so we drove up to Charnley River Wilderness Camp. It had grass, which kept the dust down, and trees, which shaded us from that fierce Kimberley sun.
There were numerous walks to gorges and swimming holes and a communal fire to sit around at night and share stories and marshmallows. We’d have stayed more than three nights, but ran out of cash. Charnley is expensive, but the money goes to preserving the wilderness and a program to try to rid the place of the destructive feral cat, something that’s almost impossible. Every night in Australia, feral cats eat millions of native animals.
We had to bring our shoes in at night so the dingos wouldn’t take them. They howled intermittently after sunset, an eerie sound in the night. But at least there was no dust. The dust on the Gibb River Road is pervasive—in the car, the tent, the clothes, the nostrils. Every time I opened the food drawer or the fridge, I had to wash my hands again before I continued cooking.
By now, we were all feeling weary from traveling. A year is a long time to be constantly in motion. And I had a fierce longing for a washing machine—washing clothes by hand, the dirtiest clothes ever, gets old fast. And yet it was all so beautiful: the kangaroos, the western kookaburras, the green pools at the bottom of all those dramatic gorges, the evening chats round the campfire at night, cuddling up with the girls, all in the same bed on cool crisp mornings, eating pancakes outside under a canopy of trees. I know I’ll miss this when we do finally go home. And when I think of marking all those papers, travelling feels a lot less tiresome . . .
R is officially tired of camping. Lee is sick of setting up the trailer tent and packing it away. He’s tired of the dust and the corrugation. K and I could keep going, I think, but we’d also like to pause somewhere, go to school, get a job, settle. We’ve started to talk about stopping in Darwin for a while. For now, however, it was on with the Gibb.
When we ran out of bread, I cooked some on the campfire. On our third and final night at Charnley River we sat under the stars and ate fresh hot bread, smothered in butter. There’s nothing better.