“If you fancy a swim, just jump in,” said our guide Stu. “Freshwater crocs don’t go for people.” Yeah, right. It’s a bit like being told it’s fine to sit in a locked room with a “reformed” murderer, asking George Best to mind your pint, or letting a woman read a map when you don’t know the way. You wanna take that chance? So how I found myself swimming about in the waters of Windjana Gorge in the Kimberley region without a care in the world, I’m not too sure. Especially when five minutes before, our group had walked past several crocs sunning themselves on the bank of the gorge we were currently frolicking in. On the one hand, it was the “believe the tour guide ” he’s got an outback mullet, so he must know what he’s talking about” mentality. But it also had something to do with the “what a cool story it would be to tell my mates if I actually got bitten by one of them” sick fantasy I had going on as well. That reminds me, I must sort that out before I get into some real trouble. Either way, the swim was very enjoyable, splashing around under the shadows of a Jurassic Park-esque gorge created over thousands of years of regular flooding and erosion. I did shit myself every time I saw a log float by – but then I should’ve gone to the toilet before I left camp.
Way Out West
The Kimberley is the ideal destination for any backpacker looking for a uniquely Australian experience. About twice the size of Tasmania, and including the large Ã in north WA terms, anyway – towns of Broome and Derby, the region is a rugged frontierland, where you’re quickly hit by the realisation that nature is in complete control and we’re just visiting. Undisturbed by the usual crowds of tourists, the Kimberley can still pride itself on being a true outback getaway, with an array of natural beauty and adventures to be found off almost every dirt road. Stu, our trusty guide, was at the wheel of the 4WD and he couldn’t wait to show us what the Kimberley had to offer. Tales of million acre farms, tens of thousands of cattle and ranchmen using planes to spot their cows gave our group an idea of just how vast the region is. First stop was Geikie Gorge, which was part of a larger coral reef in the Devonian era, 350 million years ago. What modern-day observers see is an ancient rock reef of limestone, hanging imposingly over the Fitzroy River. A boat cruise takes you along a small part of the river, where you can take in fossils and do a bit of croc spotting while you’re at it. You can also take a tour with Darngku Aboriginal guides, who tell you the secrets of bush tucker and Aboriginal culture of the area. As the sun began to set, it was time to set up camp at Stu’s secret hidey, a place only our guide knew, hidden somewhere in the Oscar Ranges. As we were the first tour of the year, the track was overgrown with wiry grass, but after a bit of searching around, we found the spot Ã complete with firewood Stu had left at the end of last season. After our bush BBQ of fresh fish, salad, homemade bread and the obligatory beers, it was off to sleep under the moon in our swags and mossie domes. Having never experienced al fresco sleeping before, I was surprised how bright a full moon is – hasn’t that thing got a dimmer switch or something?
After breakfast and a dip in a nearby water-filled quarry, it was off to Tunnel Creek, a kilometre-long tunnel forged by the constant floods of the region. Torch in hand, we made our way along the passage, spotting bats, freshwater crayfish and fork-tailed catfish along the way. Stu took particular glee in telling the story of a tourist who was filling his water bottle in one of the many waterfalls, only to realise he was stooping right next to a croc. “Never seen someone move so fast in my life,” he chuckled, as the rest of us sped up towards the light ahead. At the end was the opportunity to take a dip in a freshwater billabong, but I was more interested in the Aboriginal art on a nearby rock. It’s believed to be 10,000 years old and the area is said to be an old school, where elders would take children to tell stories and legends Ã it was pretty special to see my first piece of Aboriginal art. After another night of BBQs, bushfires and beers, the highlight of the trip was at hand. A short drive from camp and a five minute bush walk lead to Bell Gorge, a stunning series of waterfalls and swimming holes whose beauty almost defy description. Thanks to the remote nature of the gorge, and lack of crowds, youÃ•re given a real sense that you’re visiting a place that few travellers get to see. Immediately plunging into the water without a pause, Stu took us on a swim through the gorge, over rocks heated by the endless sun and under crisp, refreshing waterfalls, with the odd water monitor lizard sticking its tongue out at us for disturbing its sleep. Stopping for a natural massage courtesy of one of the waterfalls – standing under it, the water pressure was perfect at getting out all the kinks of the previous couple of nights on a swag – we ended up perched on the edge of a cliff, watching the water cascade down into the gorge 30 metres below. The group was stunned into silence, each being left to their own thoughts, as nature worked its magic around us. If life gets any better, I’d love to find out how. The experience: Kimberley Getaway Safaris run an all-inclusive three-day, two-night http://www.kimberleysafaris.com.au[Kimberley Gorge Safari] for $595pp. Ph: (08) 9193 7139 .