Thursday, September 9, 2010

Our Amazon and the inland reef

(21-24 August)

The massive floodplain that is the Fitzroy would be an impressive sight at the height of the wet season, where the river extends up to 40km wide and the volume of water through Fitzroy Crossing is second to that of the Amazon, being able to fill Sydney Harbour in five hours. Alas, we’re here in the dry season and good reason too as we would not be able to drive around much of the Kimberleys.

The Fitzroy River Lodge, on the eastern banks of the Fitzroy River is an inviting oasis along our drive along the edge of the Kimberleys. And after three days of solid driving (around 1200kms) since leaving Katherine, we feel like a break – and we owe it the tribe after all that time cooped up in our car.

Nearby is Geikie Gorge, one of three reef gorges (the other two being Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge, accessible from the Gibb River Road) - created during the Devonian period (the age of the fishes) when much of the far north west of Australia was a coral reef within an inland sea.

We take a fascinating cruise down the Fitzroy through the gorge, enchanted by the ranger’s commentary, full of interesting information covering the geology, ecology and history of Geikie Gorge. The tribe get to spot some freshwater crocodiles, some brolga and whistling kites but alas, no sawfish or stingrays which are reported to breed in the river. Any alteration to the ecology of the river will affect the breeding capabilities of the sawfish and stingrays to the extent they would head down the path of extinction such is their current fragility.

The cruise commentary described the devastating affect of the cane toad – where it takes a generation or two of the local native animal to realise not to eat the toad. The fact is around 80% of the annual freshwater crocodile birthrate is decimated by natural causes in addition to the cane toad effect. So far, there are no toads around the Geikie Gorge, however it won’t be long. There are swathes of native flora being strangled by the South American passionfruit vines.

The temperature is already in the high 30s and it’s only the mid-morning when the cruise ends so we opt to return for a walk alongside the reef cliffs the next morning. When we do return the next day, it’s very warm and the tribe get a bit annoyed that we end up taking a longer walk - just an extension to the short walk we set off on. We don’t complete the walk as it’s too hot and the walk, while level is not easy in sand for small feet.

During our stay at the Fitzroy River Lodge, we take to the pool a couple of times a day to cool off – the pool is set amongst trees and shade and is amazingly cold despite the surrounding ambient temperature. A real pleasure and wonderful way to relax in the heat.

Derby is our final port of call before our long scheduled stay in Broome. Located on King Sound, it is also the start/finish for the Gibb River Road, and a base to see the Buccaneer Archipelago. Reported to have the highest tidal range in Australia – in the region of around 11 metres, we only see the mudflats, so we are obviously only wandering about when the tide is out.

I wonder about some of the property overlooking the mudflats – sold on the days when the tide was in to maximise the “waterview” spiel perhaps?

We spend the afternoon at the local pool, which has a great little water park and gym-exercise area, where the tribe run amok and the girls develop their confidence in dunking their heads underwater, holding their breath. Later, we enjoy a spectacular sunset from the jetty, where locals and travellers were casting lines for their dinner. A barra perhaps?

Just outside of town is a prison boab tree – a reminder of the cruelties of the colonists, and now a sacred indigenous site.

Further out and along the Gibb River Road (the part that is still tarmac), we visit the Mowanjum Cultural Centre to view the local arts and crafts – the paintings were mainly of Wandjina the supreme spirit, while there were some fine examples of boab nut carvings. The centre itself offers gallery space and workshops, is an impressive building which has been unfortunately unfinished due to the builders disappearing before completion.

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