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Kimberley and NT News: A good start for the Kimberley wet season, Cape Leveque Road sealed.
January 08, 2021

8 January 2021, Issue #090

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In this issue:
  • Wet Season Update
  • Cape Leveque Road Now Fully Sealed
  • Argyle Diamond Mine Closed
  • Stations Change Hands/Management


a belated Happy New Year to you! I hope 2021 has been treating you exceptionally well.

I owe you an apology, because I skipped the last newsletter.
Now, I don't have a set schedule, I write when there is something to write about.
But there is a pattern.
I send the most newsletters in the first half of the year, that's when there is the most news to report and that's when it's most important and relevant to you.
And then I slow down in the latter half.
But I do try to stay in touch somewhat regularly, and I have always sent out one last newsletter around late November to mid December.
There would have been stuff to write about, rain happening already, plus the updates you find below.

But, oh well, I don't know.
I have always found this time of the year (Nov/Dec) particularly tough as far as energy and motivation is concerned, usually going through something of a period of depression.
And the last year hadn't exactly enabled me to store up a lot of optimism and enthusiasm to carry me through that.
So I just never managed to get off my backside to get anything done. Not even a newsletter.

I hope you'll forgive me.
You did not really miss anything.
The rain is still falling and the updates below are still relevant.
So let's dig in.

Your guide Destination Kimberley is still the most comprehensive and best advice for independent travellers to the Kimberley and I hope it continues!
We recommend it to everyone … and it is still compulsory reading for our new tour pilots every year.

(Steve Irvine, Managing Director of Shoal Air, on Jan 19, 2019. Read many more testimonials and reviews here.)

The Wet Season

So far it's looking very good. In fact, an ABC headline in early December called it "the best start to a wet season in years".

Things started early with record breaking downpours being recorded in late November already.
Broome for example saw 71 mm in 24 hours. The last November record from 10 years earlier was 54 mm.

Having said that, overall November had still been quite dry.
Which is of course nothing unusual, just that due to the very optimistic forecasts and this being a La Niña year, everybody had been hoping for an early miracle.
But short-term climate drivers (the Madden-Julian Oscillation, to be precise) prevented La Niña's rain and cooling influence during November.

December was a different story. Still no miracle, but as I said above, it is looking very good.
Early December saw a couple of nice tropical lows, again producing impressive amounts of rainfall in some places in the West Kimberley.
Like 230 mm over 48 hours in Cygnet Bay, 365.2 mm over four days. That's a hell of a lot of rain.
The system came in from the west but its effects extended far east, bringing enough rain for all the creeks and rivers across the Kimberley to start flowing.
This included the river catchments flowing into Lake Argyle and the lake has started to rise slowly from its very low level of 27% capacity.
(After several very disappointing wet seasons this had been the lowest level in 27 years!)

And then in the second half of December the monsoon trough dipped down into the Northern Territory, creating a tropical low pressure system that brought plenty of rain to the East Kimberley.
The Tanami and Duncan roads and parts of the Gibb had to be closed.
The system also affected the northern parts of the West Kimberley.
Lombadina recorded an impressive record: 91 mm in one hour!
And the newly sealed, weather proof, all season access Cape Leveque Road (more on that below) had to have a weight limit imposed.

Overall the East Kimberley saw more than twice the average rainfall in December, so yes, a promising start for this wet season for sure.
The build-up (that's what this time of the year is called, building up for the wet season proper) has felt a lot more like what we used to experience until the climate became so unpredictable.
Not saying a wet season is ever really predictable, but for now all signs point to this one being "normal", i.e. wet.
And we are now entering the traditionally wettest months of the year: January, February and March.

On the other hand, La Niña is peaking and expected to decline during the first quarter of the year.
So maybe we won't see much more than "normal". (Which is still very wet!)

The BOM has forecast an average to slightly-above- average number of tropical cyclones.
The first cyclone of the season (called Imogen) crossed the Queensland gulf coast last Sunday.
If and when Western Australia will see its first cyclone and who will be affected remains to be seen.

Naturally, no predictions whatsoever are possible yet regarding the start of the next tourist season.
Road opening times depend on how much rain falls and where it falls towards the end of the wet season.
Even after an overall poor wet season one late cyclone can push things back to late May or even June for some roads and attractions.
On the other hand things can become accessible early even after an above average wet season if the rain falls early in the year.

And then there is of course the minor issue of this Covid thing...
But honestly, at the moment I don't even want to talk about it.
Plus, what'll happen on that front is no more predictable than a wet season. We'll look at it when we get closer to the start of the tourist season.

Cape Leveque Road Now Fully Sealed

It's done. The work to seal the last 90 km stretch of the Cape Leveque Road has been completed.
Work began in 2018, was projected to take three years, and was completed as planned in November 2020.

With that the communities on the peninsula now have an all-season, all-weather access road.
Naturally, dry season tourists benefit, too, with the drive up the peninsula becoming easier and faster.
Ultimately the whole face of the peninsula is expected to change with considerably increasing tourist numbers.
I also expect to see a change in the type of people who will visit, whose demands and expectations will then need to be accommodated.
So yeah, big changes coming up for sure.

But don't be fooled into thinking that you can now easily zip around the peninsula in a two wheel sedan.
The vast majority of wonderful places that I write about in Destination Kimberley are not exactly located right on the bitumen.
The side tracks you need to negotiate to reach those places are just as sandy, boggy and corrugated as before!
Gnylmarung, Middle Lagoon, Pender Bay, Whalesong, Smithy's, Bully's... to name but a few.
Hopefully those places will retain their character for many years to come.

Also, don't expect the road works to be finished. They will restart in April, improving the first 13.6 km of the road and the Broome Highway intersection.
And in the middle of the year the next project is planned to start: sealing the access roads for Kooljaman Resort and for the Trochus Hatchery at Ardyaloon.

Argyle Diamond Mine Closed

Alluvial mining at Argyle started in 1983, open pit mining two years after, and in 2013 the mine went fully underground.
Other important milestones: I started working there in 2002 (casually, not full time) and quit for good in 2008.

After 37 years of production, 865 million carats later, Argyle Diamonds had its last day of operation on November 3.
Rio Tinto says it will take about five years to decommission and dismantle the mine and to rehabilitate the land.

Most scenic flights won't be affected at this stage. If they fly over that area, like flights to the Bungles, they'll still take in the mine site, and what you see from above will gradually change over the next years, hopefully becoming harder and harder to see at all!

As for the bus tours, Luridgii Tours plan to be back with a Mine Closure Tour in April.

Stations Change Hands/Management

It's always a good idea to book car hire and accommodation quite early, especially when travelling during peak season.
But people trying to do just that have not been able to contact Home Valley Station.

Home Valley Station, located towards the eastern end of the Gibb River Road, never opened during the 2020 season so there was also little news or talk about it.

It turns out that already in July, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia ceased the management of the tourism side of the station.
The station's owners, the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation, are still negotiating the future management.

And until that is all sorted out and a new management in place (no ETA on that), Home Valley Station will not take any bookings.

At the other end of the Gibb River Road is Birdwood Downs Station.
For 42 years this 2500 hectare station has been operated by the American-based Institute of Ecotechnics as a pastoral enrichment demonstration project.
By improving degraded lands using stock management, weed control and planting improved grasses, Birdwood Downs aimed to develop models for and showcase the sustainable management of a Kimberley station.
For interested visitors the station had also offered tours that gave insights into the ongoing research, projects and the achievements.

In selling the station it was important to the owners that the new owners would continue this focus on responsible, ecological management.
The station has been sold, not to some mysterious Chinese consortium like too many others have, but to local pastoralists Jack and Vicki Burton, who apparently plan to continue the focus on sustainable pasture management while also researching other commercial projects, like the creation of an organic fertiliser product.

The sale, which became effective this week, brings changes for tourists, too.
Campers are still welcome in the small bush-style campground with its well equipped camp kitchen. The campground may even be substantially extended and more services offered, but nothing definite on that yet.
Savannah Hut accommodation should be available in 2022 again, and MAY be available this year, too.
But there definitely won't be any horse riding and also no more tours.

And that's it for today.

I wrote at the beginning that I don't even want to talk about Covid.
I guess I can't totally avoid it as I am getting regular emails asking me about the next season.

Many people who had planned a trip for 2020 have postponed to 2021.
Things have booked up really fast, at least those that were available for booking.
A lot is still up in the air, and while everybody is of course hoping for a fantastic season and to make up some of the losses of 2020, it's impossible to say what will happen.

Will everything be open and accessible and almost twice as many people swamping the Kimberley as usual?
Will continuing border restrictions, especially international, put a big damper on things?
Will the virus resurge in Australia as it did in the northern hemisphere once the weather cools down?

While the infection numbers in Australia are negligible when compared to the rest of the world, the politics surrounding everything are just as chaotic and messy.
Who knows what's gonna happen. Especially what's gonna happen once the southern hemisphere goes into autumn and winter again.

People keep asking me for my predictions, thinking I may have some special insights, and hoping I will help them with their difficult decisions.
But all my Kimberley experience still does not allow me to forecast the dynamics of a worldwide pandemic any better than anyone else, i.e. not at all.

I am sorry. I am afraid like everybody else in the world at the moment we just have to wait and see, take it as it comes, and make the most of it without letting it get us down too much.

If you were planning a 2021 trip and are hesitant to book things like car hire and accommodation, please see newsletter issue #87 and scroll down to the last section under the heading "Interstate and International Travel".
That's the best recommendation I have for you.

As always, a big THANK YOU to all the people who made a donation in support of this newsletter.
Your support and encouraging words mean a lot to me. I appreciate you.

Take care, stay safe, and talk soon!

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Thank you so much!

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