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Kimberley trip, July 2011 – Part 1 (Broome – Derby – Mornington)

Map below is from Outback Spirit Tours website. It is a bit different from the tour we took, which did not include the flight to and from Cape Leveque shown here.
Kimberley tour map

Photo albums start here.

Go to Part 2 of trip.

We set off from Townsville on the afternoon of 6 July, flying to Brisbane to overnight at a hotel near the airport, in preparation for catching a Qantas flight from there to Broome early the next morning. The only direct flight leaves at 07:45, much too early for us to make a connection from Townsville.

We were flying in Business Class from Brisbane, thanks to the Qantas points earned through the credit card through which I pay for almost all purchases. (The annual fee for the card is well worth it compared to the cost of a long-haul airfare.)

We reached Broome airport just after 11:00 on 7 July, after sweeping in from the sea over the magnificent beaches. We found the free shuttle bus and were soon at the Moonlight Bay Suites.

Despite being several hours early for checkin, our room was ready for us. We were given two vouchers for drinks at Matso’s, their brew pub, plus a free bottle of red wine. We had a great view over the swimming pool and out to sea. The suite was spacious, with a lounge room, full kitchen, separate bedroom, and large bathroom.

We walked downtown to Chinatown after dropping off the bags and changing to warm weather clothes. It was headed for 30C, in mid Winter. We inspected a number of the pearl shops, which had an astonishing range of designs and pearl colours. The main shopping town is only a few blocks long and wide, so wandering does not take a lot of time.

This time Eric had luck with shopping; he found cotton Hawaiian shirts in bold designs. Although they are not as well made as those Jean makes for him (the pattern doesn’t match across the front), he bought two, despite tourist prices.

After returning with our loot, we walked around the corner in the other direction to Matso’s, to use our drink vouchers. With our brews, we ordered an expensive fish and chips (and salad). We hoped to get a takeaway meal for dinner (not wanting to deal with the crowd that turns up there at dinner time), but no luck. So we got a takeaway pizza from a different shop.

On 8 July, we were collected by our driver Ian with the Outback Spirit bus just before 09:00. We drove around Broome, collecting other people (17 of us in total for this trip). A fair number were in the Cable Beach area on the other side of town. Ian gave the usual informative talk about the trip while we were parked. Several strings of camels wandered past, as they do in Broome. We headed out of town at 09:45.

Our first stop was a long tour of the Willie Creek Pearl Farm. This included an informative and well presented talk about cultured pearls, a nice lunch, a launch trip to see some of the pearl farming examples we had just been told about, and plenty of time to shop.

On the way between the main road and Willie Creek, we passed a group of people protesting a $30 billion gas hub at James Price Point, about 60 km north of Broome. They were well set up for a long stay.

Crossed the Fitzroy River, which in the wet season can flow at a million cubic metres a second, on our way to Derby. There we visited the standard tourist sites, which we’ve seen before.

As we drove through Derby, we chanced upon a parade. We diverted, and reached the Derby jetty, so we could admire the height of the tides. The crowds for the parade were dissipating as we drove back through.

Then to Woolworth’s, so we could collect liquor supplies for several dry evenings further up the track. (Regulations in some areas allow visitors to bring a small amount of alcohol for personal use, but no one can sell, or even give, any to us. So the tour company could not arrange for complimentary wine.) The liquor store had a one bottle per person rule. By then it was 17:30 and already dark. We stayed at King Sound Resort, where we have stayed several times previously. (There’s not a lot of choice in Derby.) Buffet dinner was quite acceptable but nothing special.

9 July. Up at 05:30. Bags out by the bus at 06:30; breakfast the same time. By 07:15, sun well up, we left Derby, taking the Gibb River Road east through the King Leopold Ranges. We lost mobile phone contact at 07:45 and didn’t expect to get another signal for several days. Saw an eagle in a tree, inconvenient for a photograph. At this point the Gibb River Road is single lane bitumen, part of the old Beef Road Scheme, for perhaps 100 km, to where a mine road enters.

Then it changed to good dirt. The country soon turned to more open plains in the Canning Basin. Napier Ranges. King Leopold Range. Photo stop, overlooking the areas we had driven through. Soon after that we had morning tea at Apex Creek, a little side spot at a clear spring.

We took the side road to Mornington at 11:00. Eric volunteered to sit in the front with the driver. That meant he had to climb down from the cab, open and close 3 gates, and climb back in as we travelled the 100km. We kept seeing shorthorn cattle, rather than the Brahman crosses we expected. We encountered another Outback Spirit bus (heading out) as midday approached, at the 50 km mark to Mornington.

Arrived at Mornington Wilderness Camp in the Artesian Range around 12:30. This is one of several Australian Wildlife Conservancy sanctuaries.

After lunch, Manager Diane talked about the place before we went to our rooms. We are staying in ensuite safari tent cabins overlooking Annie Creek. A very peaceful location, with a bubbling brook.

Drove to Bluebush waterhole around 14:30. This is a pleasant spot overlooking the Fitzroy River. Despite being close, the drive took 25 minutes. We saw a small sand goanna, which posed nicely for photos. The water was warm, although perhaps not by our standards. It was also still running very fast. While returning to the tents we saw a Australian Bustard. We also stopped to look at the large display of termite information.

Back at the tent, we charged camera batteries and iPhones while the sun was out (the site runs on solar power). At 18:30 we walked through the dark following solar path lamps for dinner in the open air dining area. Dinner was very fancy for such a remote area. Roast lamb, with sliced round potatoes, sweet potatoes, on a bed of pumpkin, with medallions of stuffing.

The after dinner talk by Joey on Mornington experience in wildlife studies was interesting. Animals in Mornington include Northern Quoll, Wyulda, Monjon, Short eared Rock-wallaby, Northern Brown Bandicoot, Kimberley Rock-rat, Black Grasswren. Plus dingos and Euros. He also talked some about Australian Wildlife Conservancy. As we have contributed to AWC for some time, we already had a lot of this background.

We went to bed at 21:00 so as not to use too much battery power.

Go to Part 2 of trip.