We headed off to Wyndham for the day, to see what was once the main town in Western Australia’s East Kimberley region.
But rather than take the highway there and back (BORING!), we followed the advice of a very helpful officer in the Kununurra tourist information centre. She suggested we take the back road up to Wyndham (a 4WD track), and pointed out some attractions en route, including some of the less visited gorges and campsites.
So, naturally, we took the road less travelled!
Not far out of Kununurra we arrived at Ivanhoe Crossing, which consisted of two concrete causeways covered in flowing water, and a short rocky section to finish the second causeway.
You can check out the video of our Ivanhoe Crossing experience …
From there the unsealed road meandered alongside the Lower Ord River, with the surface varying from sand to gravel to very rocky, all with some level of corrugations to make it more fun. So we dropped the tyre pressures to make it all a bit easier.
We almost visited Middle Springs via an even more ‘interesting’ 4WD track but stopped when it became too overgrown to continue. Shortly after that we drove into Black Rock Falls where, nestled at the end of a short gorge, we found Black Rock waterhole – the last remaining water left below the now dry waterfall. (You may recall we’ve mentioned in previous posts the lack of rain in the 2018-19 wet season.)
There are two public boat ramps along the road and, while stopped at one (Mambi Island), we saw a very large crocodile on the opposite bank. There were also some wonderful campsites along the river.
Many a cow was just as interested in watching us drive past as we were in them!
We also saw many boab trees along the way, including this stunning grove.
Just before the 4WD track joined the Great Northern Highway near Wyndham, we stopped off at Telegraph Hill and the remains of the Coastal Wireless Station which operated there from 1914 – 1924.
The view from the hill took in the beautiful Marlgu Billabong in the Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve, a large protected wetlands area with a rich population of many bird species. A visit to these wetlands should be on everyone’s list! A raised walkway provided access to viewing points and a great bird hide over the water, with protection bars on each side to keep the crocodiles at bay.
Just another 15 minutes drive up the road, and we arrived in Wyndham – sadly, now a shadow of its former self.
Wyndham has a history as a busy port town. It was established in 1886 as a major port and trading station for the Kimberley region following the discovery of gold in the area, although the gold rush was very short lived (a couple of years).
It has since had several boom-crash cycles, starting with the establishment of the Wyndham Meatworks and it’s significant export industry (which, after 70 years’ operation, closed in the 1980s), and later as a mining port and then a live cattle export port. It now also supports the export of produce and the import of fertilisers and other necessities for the many farms in the local Ord River Irrigation area.
It is worth noting that there were six hotels in Wyndham in 1888 – but not anymore. The last pub closed down a couple of years ago. We found the town to be tired and run down, with many empty and disused buildings. We had been told about the great fish and chips, which we were looking forward to having for lunch – sadly, the fish and chips shop had also closed down. But on a positive note, the bakery was open and selling great barra pies.
The first stop after lunch was ‘The Bastion’, a lookout that towers over the town and provides a view of all five rivers that flow into the Cambridge Gulf (being the Durack, Pentecost, King, Forrest and Ord). The view is simply amazing, and a must do if visiting.
Features to see in the town are the:
- big crocodile (made by the town’s students) which was around 15 metres long,
- Warriu Dreamtime Statues (giant bronze sculptures of an Aboriginal family and native animals),
- public fishing platform to support recreational fishing in the area,
- Afghan camels silhouette, which pays homage to the role of camels and their Afghan handlers in Wyndham’s early trading years, and the
- ‘largest boab tree in captivity’ (in the grounds of the local caravan park!). The tree’s circumference is 25 metres, and it is thought to be over 2,000 years old.
It is hoped that, as the Ord Irrigation area continues to expand, Wyndham is well placed to provide transport options for exporting, and even to support cruise ships and tourism ventures into the Kimberley area.
As we headed back down the highway towards Kununurra, we stopped to see ‘The Grotto’ a natural amphitheatre and deep 100 metre pool in a gorge. Surrounded by large cliffs, their rich red and black colouring complemented the green trees and ferns in the grotto below.
All in all, a great day exploring the region between Kununurra and Wyndham.