‘Look out for the cat snakes on the rock ledges,’ our guide warned. ‘We saw one stalking a bird the other evening’.
‘But don’t take my word for it – I failed the snake identification exam!’ she laughed. Pilchard and I exchanged glances. The previous day a gaggle of grey nomads had shown us a photo of the ‘Python’* they’d seen – they’d virtually stood over it to get their photos – on the gorge track.
Probably just as well they hadn’t realised it was a King Brown** …
‘Oh look! There’s a crocodile,’ the guide continued, turning the boat and steering straight for the magnificent limestone walls of Geikie*** Gorge.
White, weathered rock towered high above us as the cruise boat floated under massive ledges, pocked with holes and opening into amazing caverns dripping with jagged edges carved into glittering icicles.
The water rippled and flung the harsh Kimberley sunshine against the glistening limestone crystals. And with the dry season and water level dropping, the water-worn striations of the massive rocky walls appeared to melt into the river.
Replace the penguins and seals with snakes and crocodiles – and Geikie Gorge is the closest thing to an iceberg I’ll probably ever see in Australia!
On the mainland, anyway.
C’mon … you didn’t think the Outback had any REAL icebergs, did you??
The red rock’s a bit of a giveaway too …
When in flood – which it is every few years – the Fitzroy River rises to 26+ metres above the original crossing, and flows at up to 300,000 metres³ per second, making it one of Australia’s largest.
The effects of this volume of water on the variously coloured soft-ish limestone of the gorge walls could be clearly seen as the cruise boat floated close to the cliffs – all that’s left of the Devonian reef system that once surrounded the vast inland sea that is now the Kimberley region.
Passing the end point of the snake-free walk we’d completed the previous day, we approached the Western Wall, glowing in the early morning sun. According to our guide, the Kimberley summer (Nov-March) is fierce and intense, with the temperature regularly topping 38°C (~110°+ F) by 9am, also the time of the year when flooding is most likely.
But happily these extremes weren’t apparent during our July 2012 visit, with the morning temperature so chilly for our 8am cruise that our guide was all rugged up. And poking fun at the Grey Nomads – most of the tour group – for doing the same.
‘Aren’t you all from Melbourne?’ she asked to quite a few nods.
‘And isn’t it cold AS down there?’ More nods.
‘So why are you all wearing jackets HERE?’
Watching the group embarking onto the barge-like watercraft that cruise the gorge during the winter months had almost been worth the ticket price – exceptionally good value as it was.
Call me weird, but did I really need water, extra sunscreen and snacks for a cruise lasting an hour in single-digit early morning temperatures? And if I really thought I DID need them, would I have left them in the car?? AND … even if we’d been travelling with 2 or 3 other couples, I’d probably have survived the hour without sitting next to them …
But finally, the fidgeting, frowning and fussing were over and we swung out into the river, immediately banishing any thoughts we might have entertained that experiencing the gorge from yesterday’s walk along the western edge was as good as being on the cruise.
While the river cuts a swathe between the excellent Fitzroy Crossing River Lodge campground and township, there’s no real clue from the surrounding countryside that the gorge exists. But at the end of an easy 20 km (12 miles) drive from Fitzroy Crossing, between Halls Creek and Derby on the Great Northern Highway and closest town to the gorge, the pastoral country opens into the rocky reef remnants signalling the start of the gorge system.
The 1½ hour return walk along the western edge was a good introduction to its splendours, especially in the late afternoon when the setting sun lights up the eastern wall.
Crocodile spotting on the riverbanks, admiring wildflowers in the scrub and birdwatching around the sharp rocky formations above the track aside, the scenic walk was uneventful …
… unless you count the three dudes (possibly part of a backpacker plague that freeloaded campground amenities at night****) so busy with their 3-way ‘F%#!ing F*#%er conversation and trying to out-cool each other they failed to see the crocodile sunning itself below …
Theirs was the loss!!
But quite apart from the entertainment to be had from other gorge visitors, taking a morning boat cruise up the gorge meant a birds-eye view of the Eastern wall’s overhangs then beyond to the Western Wall’s magnificent colours, contours and crags aglow in the morning sun.
The unearthly shapes and swirls weathered into the rock by ongoing inundation sometimes coalesced into familiar lines – Aussies aboard immediately likened the ‘Nixon’s Head’ rocky profile to that of a well known Australian red headed female politician …
Could even this remote spot be an experimental site for subliminal political advertising?
A bump interrupted our smooth return ride down the river. If only our guide hadn’t just told us that while less dangerous than the saltwater variety, freshwater crocodiles actually HAVE been known to attack!
‘I hit that stump EVERY time,’ our delightful guide muttered. Another contribution – part of a community system of forfeits and fines – to the local football team’s annual excursion fund!
‘At the rate we’re going with the swear jar, we’ll be sending them to Disneyland,’ she chuckled. ‘And then we’ll start raising money to bring them home again.’
As we disembarked – not nearly as diverting OR time consuming as boarding an hour before had been – our experience of Geikie Gorge over for this year, we vowed to one day return and take the sunset cruise.
After all, it’s not often you get to cruise a Devonian reef system.
Or see an Aussie-style iceberg!
* Python= non-venemous
** King Brown = Deadly!
*** Geikie pronounced ‘Geeky’
**** According to the campground caretaker!