Broome to Derby Western Australia 27 March to 1 April 2007.
2 Apr 2007
After 5 days in Broome it was now time to hit the road once more and our journey will be taking us inland. We are beginning to cross the top of Australia and there are two routes to choose from. One makes the long de-tour around the Kimberly, which is the remote land in the far north of Western Australia, to Kununurra. This route gives access to Wolfe Creek Crater National Park as well as the Bungle Bungles in Purnululu National Park. The shorter route is the Gibb River Road which has 40 miles of sealed road and over 450 plus miles of rough dirt road. This route according, to the guide books, was constructed to transport cattle from the stations to the port of Derby and travels through some spectacular vegetated creeks, gorges and waterholes. Guess which route we will be taking?
Leaving Broome we headed down the Broome Highway joining the Great Northern Highway after 21 miles. With the open road in front of us and Tropical Cyclone Kara behind us we were on our way. The weather reports this morning had indicated that Kara would come on shore somewhere around Port Headland but was likely to have worn itself out by then. However cyclones are not always predictable and can change and reform at anytime. After a quick stop for lunch we arrived at the Willare Bridge Roadhouse for a coffee, the cyclone weather chart on the counter showed Kara still heading south.
We arrived in Derby and found a nice quiet site at West Kimberly Lodge, on the outskirts of the town but close to a supermarket. We did a bit of shopping and returned home to settle down for the evening. That night it began to rain very heavy and continued on right through Wednesday morning. This is the fall out from Kara which even though is hundreds of miles away is still letting us know she is around.
After lunch it cleared up, well stopped raining so we unhooked everything and went into Derby looking for the tourist office. Derby was the first town to be settled in the Kimberly, it was first discovered by Englishman William Dampier in 1688 but it was not settled until after 1879 when the pastoral industry was established and many stations were developed. The discovery of gold in Halls Creek in 1885 boosted the development of the newly established port. In 1964 the existing jetty was built to export live cattle and import fuel, oil and provisions. Today the jetty is a popular place to view the sunsets over the King Sound or to fish for silver cobbler, north west salmon or shark on the incoming tide. It is also a good place to view the tides from, Derby has Australia's highest tidal range, with the variations being as much as 11 metres; they are also the second highest in the southern hemisphere. The Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, Canada has the worlds highest tides at 15 metres.
The town of Derby is situated on the shores of King Sound to the north of the mouth of the Fitzroy River. It is surrounded by marsh flats with outlying mangroves attracting over 210 species of birds and some migratory waders. When we first saw them the tide was in but we were told that when the tide is out the locals have had beech parties out on the flats.
The visitors centre is at the end of the main street which is lined with boab trees and is wide enough to turn a mule or camel train around in, not that we saw many of those during our stay. Jeff counted 27 boab trees lining the centre of the road on our journey. Adansonia Gregorii, to give them their proper name, is the only species of this genus of ten species that is found in Australia. The boab is a deciduous tree occurring on sandy plains from Louge River, between Broome and Derby to the Victoria River Basin in the Northern Territory. The only other place we have seen boab trees was in the Kruger Park in South Africa.
In the visitors centre we were disappointed to learn that the trips to the gorges can not operate due to the roads all being closed because of the recent rain. Whilst staying here the television weather forecast reported that Derby had had the highest rainfall recorded in March since records began with over 500 mm. This was supported by local people we spoke to who said this summer had been the driest 'wet season' they had experienced until this month. All this rain has been attributed to the three tropical cyclones in the past three weeks.
The only trip running is the flight to the Horizontal Waterfall which includes the Thousand Island coast of the Buccaneer Archipelago. Kevin and Anne, whom we met in Broome, had been on a similar trip and talked highly of it so we decided to book it for Friday.
We now headed for the jetty, which is reached by travelling along a long causeway crossing the mud flats, to view the tides but luck was not in our favour. Today's high tide was not until 8pm, it was now 3 pm, and the big tides had been last week, so to console our disappointment we had a coffee and cake in the nearby Point Restaurant. I really should not have indulged as on Friday when we take our flight all passengers are weighed before boarding, which has probably pushed me into the excess baggage class. If it was not so windy I would have ridden back to the campsite on my bike but I wobble about as it is. We had been told this restaurant does some really nice sea food so we left promising to return for dinner one night.
Thursday dawned with the sun shining following another night of rain. However the temperature was back up in the mid 30's and the humidity levels very high. The TV news said that Kara had crossed the coast at Eighty Mile Beach but had fizzled to a severe tropical storm. It was still bad enough to flood the main high way north but no damage was reported. We saw staff at the Pardoo Road House, on the news, describing their experience of the storm and recognised them from our visit there last week.
Today, Thursday, we planned to do all the tourist things in Derby. Our first visit was to the Boab Prison Tree. At the site is an interpretative pavilion detaining why it is of sacred significance to the Aboriginal people. The tree is believed to be about 1500 years old and was used as a staging point for prisoners being walked to Derby. Before Derby was established in 1883 Aboriginal people were kidnapped from the West Kimberly by settlers known as Blackbirds. These settlers were connected to the pearling industry and wanted divers and workers for the boats. The prisoners were rounded up and marched to the coast and it is believed they were held in the tree before the final walk into Derby. Close by is a sign asking people to respect the significance of the tree and not cross the barrier and enter it, at the bottom it also mentions that snakes frequent the tree. If the first doses not deter you I am sure the second will.
Close by is Myall's Bore and Cattle Trough which was built after the 1890-1892 drought to allow the cattle being driven from the Kimberly region to the port of Derby to be watered. The cattle trough is 120 meters long and could handle 500 bullocks at one time.
We then set off for a short drive up the Gibb River Road on the sealed part only, to see some of the scenery. At the start are the notice boards detailing the state of the road, where water and fuel can be obtained and the camp sites along the way. Today, apart from the sealed part, the remaining road is closed to all traffic. Anyone travelling on a closed road will be fined and we were told it is $500 per wheel. As we have 4 wheels Jeff did not fancy having to pay a $2000 fine so after a stop for lunch we turned around and headed back to the camp site.
On Friday morning we were off for our trip to the Horizontal Falls, a trip Jeff will tell you about. Whilst returning back to Derby on the plane the two pilots commented about all the activity occurring on the jetty, so once we were back in the van we went to see what was going on. The jetty was sealed off whilst a road train tanker was fuelling a boat, there was not a lot to see so we went for a coffee at The Point Restaurant and booked a table for an evening meal. At 5.30 we returned to the jetty to watch the sun set, although it was not a clear night there were some lovely colours in the sky and many locals had turned out to view it also. We returned to The Point Restaurant, well sprayed with mossie spray and had a lovely meal in a really nice setting. Tonight was to be our last night in Derby but we had heard earlier in the day that the Great Northern Road was flooded at Fitzroy Crossing and we would probably not be able to move on tomorrow. Looking at the map of the area we saw a campsite in the town but away from the river, we thought we would phone them in the morning and get information about the floods and if they were affected. If all was well we could move on to them and wait for the river to subside.
Saturday morning news was not good and our call to the campsite revealed the flood would likely reach them later today. So we have booked another night here at Derby and will just have to assess the situation on a daily basis.