ADVENTURES AROUND THE WORLD© Christopher Earls Brennen
Hike I6. Windjana Gorge National Park
- Hiking time: About 1 hour
- Estimated hiking distance: About 1.3 miles (2 kilometers)
- Elevation gain: None.
- Topo Map: Windjana Gorge National Park, Western Australia
- Difficulties: None.
- Special equipment: None
- Permit: None. However, the park contains a number of sites sacred to the local aboriginal people, the Bunuba. Visitors should stay on the established trails out of respect for the Bunuba traditions and sites.
- ACA Rating: 1AI
Windjana Gorge National Park is a national park in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, 1855km northeast of Perth and 355km east of Broome. The park is located in the Napier Range and covers an area of 220acres. The Napier Range which includes both Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge is the rugged 350-million-year-old limestone remains of a Devonian reef that protrudes up precipitiously from the surrounding flat plains of the Fitzroy River basin. Though not particularly high (less than 200m) and quite narrow in breadth (less than 2km), its southern cliffs present an almost impenetrable barrier to passage especially for those unfamiliar with the region. The Windjana Gorge was carved diagonally through the Napier Range by the Lennard River; it is over 3km long and about 100m wide with walls that rise to a height of 30m in places.
Approaching Windjana Gorge entrance Tunnel on trail into Windjana Gorge
The river flows freely through the gorge during the wet season but during the dry season (between May and September) it becomes a series of pools surrounded by trees and shrubs. Some of the vegetation found along the river banks include paperbarks, cadjebuts, native fig trees and leichhardt trees. Many freshwater crocodiles reside in the river and pools and posted signs warn of the risks these pose. Freshwater crocodiles are smaller and not as aggressive as saltwater crocodiles; they are only a danger if you happen to step on one.
Windjana Gorge is accessed from a trailhead (at -17.41248oS 124.94304oE) just off the Fairfield-Leopold Downs road, northwest of Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. The Fairfield-Leopold Downs road is a dirt road that connects the paved Great Northern Highway at a point 43km west of Fitzroy Crossing to a partially paved section of the Gibbs River Road at a point 124km east of the start of the Gibbs River Road just south of Derby. The Windjana Gorge turn-off is 20km south of the Gibbs River Road and 104km north of the Great Northern Highway. The Fairfield-Leopold Downs road and parts of the Gibbs River Road are therefore only passable during the dry season (April 1 to November 1) and therefore Windjana Gorge is inaccessible during the wet season.
It is a very short distance from the trailhead (at -17.41248oS 124.94304oE) along the base of the cliff that represents the south face of the Napier Range, to the entrance to the Windjana Gorge. The trail proceeds past a information board warning of the risk of bites from freshwater crocodiles to a short narrow tunnel that opens onto the shady south bank of the pool of the Lennard River. To the left is the contorted cliff face of the gorge with many hollows and caves used by the Bunuba during the Battle of Winjana Gorge. At one point there is a very nice fossil in the cliff face at about head level; it is a trilobite, a mid-Paleozoic genus. To the right on the other side of the river pool is an equally precipitous cliff also used by the combatants during the aforementioned battle.
About 200m inside, the gorge widens with a large sand flat on the near side. Here, at the edge of the river pool is a large rock that is a special place for the Bunuba people for several reasons. First it is a special place for women; it was believed that any woman mounting it or swimming near it would become pregnant because, like many ancient peoples, the aborigines had not made the connection between sexual activity and pregnancy.
View into Windjana Gorge Looking back toward the entrance
The rock also became known as Jandamarra's Rock because of the evolving events know as the Battle of Windjana Gorge. During the skirmishes of the Bunuba uprising a group of stockmen intent on punishing Jandamarra and his fellow revolutionaries had been lured into a Bunuba ambush in the Gorge. When the stockmen reached the rock the Bunuba opened fire from hidden positions. Jandamarra appeared atop the rock with his Winchester rifle and killed several of the stockmen. Then he and his fellow Bunuba chased the rest of the stockmen out onto the plains where the fight continued on horseback and resulted in a decisive victory for the rebellion.
During our visit we were photographing fresh water crocodiles just upstream of Jandamarra's rock when a group of Bunuba schoolgirls walked into the gorge. One climbed onto the rock and was firmly told to get down by one of their escorts. They laughed and joked with me as I took their photograph and had their picture taken with me.
There where many fresh water crocodiles basking at the water's edge though they retreated as I approached. One 3m long adult lingered, however, and I snapped a good photo of him as he swam away. Apparently they represent little danger unless you happen to stand on one in which case they can administer a painful bite.
Fresh water crocodile (about 3 meters long) Warning of freshwater crocodile bites
Windjana Gorge is now a lovely, peaceful place where the water lasts year round and provides an abundance of greenery in an otherwise parched landscape. Not much wonder the Bunuba love this place and not just for the conflict that it witnessed.
Last updated 3/21/16.
Christopher E. Brennen