Tag Archives: Fitzroy crossing

17 – Fitzroy Crossing and Darngku


Girrganyi – the black kite

After a two-night R&R in Broome we drove across to Fitzroy Crossing. We didn’t do much in Broome, treating it as a chance to do nothing for a day. After all, we’d had a busy few weeks so far.

We stayed in one of the safari tents at Fitzroy River Lodge. They are what it says on the packet – a canvas tent set over a concrete base. Each tent has its own small ablutions block. The idea is when the monsoon comes, the canvas, beds etc are packed away, the ablutions block is sealed, and the weather does its thing until the water recedes. They’re fine for a one night stay, but it was the end of the season. The shower leaked and the sink was blocked. Pete complained and it was fixed – but one expects better at $180 a night.

5v3a6737This was the first time it was really hot, reaching 39. That’s not very hot for this part of the world where the average maximum is 37.5, but we felt the heat, We sat on our little veranda facing the Fitzroy’s very empty course. Pete read a book and I watched the few birds out in the heat. Big black cockatoos munched on acacias, a handsome little northern kookaburra panted on a tree branch. A kangaroo hopped across the sand banks in the Fitzroy near one of the remaining pools.

We’d decided to go down to Geikie Gorge (Darngku is its aboriginal name), one of the Fitzroy’s permanent water holes, for a short boat trip. It was due to start at 4pm, when the temperature had dropped a little and the sun was sinking. A nice young aboriginal man did the EFTPOS thing with us at the park. (Visitors are not asked to pay to enter the park.) While we waited for the tour to start we read through the displays telling people about the gorge, and some of the aboriginal legends. That’s why I have a picture of a black kite as the header for this post. Here’s his story.

The story of the black kite. And you do see this bird wherever there's a fire

The story of the black kite. And you do see this bird wherever there’s a fire

About a dozen of us hopped onto a shallow draught boat for the hour-long trip. It was a fabulous little tour, best told in pictures.

The gorge from the start of the tour

The gorge from the start of the tour. It’s an amazing place. Some ancient species like sawfish still exist in these waters (remember, it’s fresh water).


The colours are amazing. That white line is the high flood mark


See how the rocks have been undercut? You can see the ripples reflected on the stone. And those lumps of mud are bird houses, little local mud larks.

If you look inside the circle you'll see two little faces

If you look inside the circle you’ll see two little faces. The nests will be swept away in the next Wet – but they’ll build again.


Arty-farty gorgeousness


The ‘dark’ side of the gorge. There are caves all through there, home to many things. The ranger told us a story about two people who went exploring. Their torch died, and they sat down in the dark to take a breather. Until their ‘seat’ moved. It was a 4.5m olive python.


One of the local wallabies came down to watch us glide past


The line of debris towards top left is a fresh water crocodile. They’re harmless (to people). It disappeared in a swirl of water as soon as it realised it had been spotted


Right place, right time. I noticed this kite hunting and managed to get a rather grainy shot of it with its prey in its beak

Last light on the rocks as we disembark

Last light on the rocks as we disembark

Along the mighty Fitzroy

Next stop on the Big Trip was Fitzroy Crossing, a comfortable 650km or so down the road – including a side trip to the old port of Wyndham which used to service the cattle trade and has now expanded into other areas. I was hoping to see a salty (salt water croc) but I was disappointed.

As usual, the road barrels along between low, eroded hills and passes over dry river beds. The bridges are narrow, with room for only one car so drivers have to exercise common sense if another car is coming the other way.

Everywhere you’ll see termite mounds, their colours reflecting the ground, sometimes deep red, sometimes limestone pale. In between is the usual sclerophyll scrub, some taller eucalypts and the signature boab trees. The largest of those can be over one thousand years old. This one is framed by a grass fire, probably started by some vandal and quite uncontrollable.

The mighty Fitzroy River is among the largest in Australia – when it’s running, of course. We’re talking about Sydney Harbours of water pouring into the sea in the Wet. In the Dry, a series of deep pools keep the local wildlife alive.

In this land of extremes, it’s hard to get across to people from more equitable climates how dramatic those changes can be. These pictures of the Fitzroy at Fitzroy Crossing might give you an idea.

Not too many years ago, all rivers were crossed using fords which later were at least cast in concrete. This one lane ford over the Fitzroy plunges steeply down from the river bank to the bed, then up the other side. At the height of the wet season, the road is impassable.

So they built a bridge. Now, towards the end of the Dry, the pools still trickle from one to the other. I’m standing on the river bank taking the picture.

Far below me, a Jabiru flies over the pools looking for breakfast. At the height of the 2011 floods, the water would have been over my head – and over that bridge. Bear in mind we’re a long way from the river’s mouth into King Sound. Further down its length we crossed three major channels funnelling the Fitzroy’s water to the ocean. I’ve included a picture of the 2011 floods from the visitor centre at Geikie Gorge to give you some idea of what I’m talking about.

Of course, the Fitzroy has its share of spectacular gorges formed at rocky ground where deep water can last. Twenty kilometres from the town of Fitzroy Crossing is such a place – Geikie Gorge.

This is a very special place. The rocks are so different from most in this red, sunburnt land. Yes, it’s limestone but it’s steep and sharp. This little article about the gorge is eye-opening and accurate about the park’s current condition. And they’re expecting cane toads to arrive with the next flood. Those introduced toads will decimate the unique wildlife. The gorge contains sawfish and stingrays which have evolved to survive in this very different environment. Read more about the place here.

I’d like to see more done about preserving these incredible places. When we were there work had commenced on cleaning up the area around the visitor centre but much more needs to be done to clear away the introduced weeds choking the trees and covering the rocks. Because the land must cope with extremes in its own way, it is very fragile, unsuited to coping with the introduced species.

We didn’t have time to take the two-hour boat trip to look at the gorge from the water. A pity. But it won’t be the only thing I’ll miss on this trip.