Windjana Gorge National Park
Windjana Gorge National Park is a well known and much visited national park in the Kimberley, because similar to Geikie Gorge and Tunnel Creek it is easily accessible.
That's something that can't be said of many Kimberley gorges...
Windjana Gorge is a 3.5 km gorge, carved out of the Napier Range by the Lennard River. The Napier Range is part of the same ancient barrier reef system that you also see at Tunnel Creek and Geikie Gorge. (In the Devonian period, over 300 million years ago, this whole area was under the ocean...)
The walls on both sides of Windjana Gorge are 30 to 100 metres high, and the gorge is over 100 metres wide.
It's an impressive sight, but it would be even more amazing to see during the wet season when the Lennard River is a raging torrent. Of course you can't get near the gorge then...
At the beginning of the dry season it is possible to canoe the whole length of the gorge (update: it used to be, it's not allowed any more...), but the waters recede quickly.
Most tourists will see the Windjana Gorge by following the 3.5 km path that winds its way through the monsoonal strip of vegetation along the permanent pools of water that remain.
Brave tourists are known to swim here early in the season. Someone very brave had a dip here one long gone October, at the end of a hot, sweaty day. I remember standing there, one foot in the water, one sinking into the sandy edge of the pool, trying to throw water over myself while keeping an eye on about two dozen little crocodiles at the same time...
That's the most noticeable feature of Windjana Gorge in my eyes, the freshwater crocodiles. It's what I remember from every visit... There are literally dozens of them, in all sizes. As the pools of water get smaller and smaller they end up more and more crammed into those pools. You really can't miss them. They also seem to be very used to humans, which is no surprise given the tourist numbers here.
Freshwater crocodiles are usually harmless. They won't stalk or attack you like saltwater crocodiles do. Still, a crocodile is a crocodile and their teeth are razor sharp, so please don't try to pet them or pick them up...
Windjana Gorge National Park can be found along the Leopold Downs Road, a well maintained gravel road that connects the Great Northern Highway with the famous Gibb River Road. No, you don't have to travel the Gibb River Road to see Windjana Gorge. The turn off is very close to Derby, before the Gibb River Road gets serious. On the other end the Leopold Downs Road joins the highway close to Fitzroy Crossing.
This location is convenient for people who want to see the Kimberley but don't want to have to "rough it".
(Unbelievable, but they exist... Okay, okay, I accept that bush camping with limited facilities isn't everybody's cup of tea, just because I love it, the wilder, the better...)
Anyway, Windjana Gorge National Park can be visited in a day trip from Derby to Fitzroy Crossing, or the other way round. Since Windjana Gorge is right next to Tunnel Creek National Park you can do the two in one go.
If you are driving the Gibb River Road Windjana Gorge is an obvious first/last stop for your trip.
Commercial day tours are available from Derby and Fitzroy Crossing.
Camping at Windjana Gorge
You can imagine a Fitzroy Crossing/Derby self-drive day tour would make for a long day.
Most people stay at the campground at Windjana Gorge National Park. I spoke to one tourist who thought it was an ugly campground, but we found it very nice.
The view of the Napier Range glowing in the evening sun makes up for the camp site itself being maybe a bit open and boring.
The campground is spacious and well maintained, with good facilities including showers (don't take showers as a given at bush campsites in the Kimberley!). There is also a separate area for those noisy generators.
One of the national park rangers will come around in the evening and collect the camping fee, which is $10 pp as of 2008/2009.
($2 for children under 16.)
If you consider visiting Windjana Gorge National Park, do stop at Tunnel Creek National Park. The two parks are very close together and they definitely make for a fun day. Everybody loves the tunnel, and everybody loves the crocs...
Related Reader Submission: First Night at Windjana Gorge Camp