THE HEART OF THE KIMBERLEY UNCOVERED

Within a day’s outing from Halls Creek you will find ancient landscapes with spectacular gorges, gold rush ruins and palm-fringed pools

WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY BY LINDA BLOFFWITCH

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Without a doubt, the Kimberley would have to be one of the most alluring destinations in Australia. There’s something very special about the place that ignites a traveller’s heart, and I don’t think it’s just one thing in particular that has seen me and many others returning time after time.

For this visit, we opted to explore in and around the Halls Creek region. If you’re after the lure of beautiful gorges, eager to learn about an area’s history, or even just longing to get off the beaten track, you can’t go past the central Kimberley. The Great Northern Highway passes through Halls Creek, so basing yourself here for a few days is a great option for RVers, as you can easily do day trips and explore the numerous attractions in town and around the surrounding area.

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Historically, the town of Halls Creek was founded back in the 1880s, after prospector Charles Hall found a gold nugget in a local creek. His find inspired a gold rush, and at its peak, the town supported up to 4,000 people on the goldfields. Conditions were harsh and the gold rush was short-lived, and as quickly as the prospectors came, they left.

With many of the town’s mud brick buildings falling down or requiring extensive work after being battered year after year with torrential wet season rains, it was decided to move the town 15km away to its present location. Services were now closer to the aerodrome and the new town was officially opened in 1954. Today, not a lot remains at the old town, but it’s still worthy of a visit to see the last remnants of the mud brick post office, and to take a stroll through the pioneer cemetery.

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AROUND TOWN

Whilst staying in town, we settled in at the local caravan park then headed straight for the Halls Creek Visitors & Tourism Centre. This would have to be one of the best information hubs that we’ve come across during our numerous trips to the Kimberley. Not only does it offer extensive local and regional information, but the centre stocks a great range of products that would make ideal gifts.

Collecting all the information we needed for our stay, we spent the rest of the day looking around town. I you allow yourself time, pick up the Town Walk brochure from the Visitor’s Centre and try the informative 2km self-guided walk that highlights the history and culture of the region.

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We found Halls Creek to be well set up as it offers a range of services that you’d come to expect from a town of this size. The local IGA stocks all your fresh consumables and general items, and you’ll also find a bakery, post office, hotel, fuel, mechanical repairs, a gift shop, and the excellent Yarliyil Art Centre. During our visit, we restocked our supplies at the local supermarket and made a mandatory stop at the bakery which is a favourite with locals and travellers alike. Oh, and here’s a tip – get to the bakery early as it’s very popular!

ATTRACTIONS GALORE

To maximise your central Kimberley experience, allow yourself at least a couple of days to visit the numerous attractions along the Duncan Road.

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The closest to town is the China Wall, named after its resemblance to the Great Wall of China. This natural vein of quartzite is very striking, rising nearly 6 metres high and stretching for almost a kilometre along the majestic Kimberley landscape. We visited early in the morning, but arriving later in the day will reward you with a spectacular sight as the afternoon sun hits the rocks.

Further along the Duncan Road, a mandatory stop for us was Caroline Pool. Soon after the wet season, this pool is a magnificent place to go swimming. And as an added bonus, the Shire even allows short term free camping! We made it a morning coffee stop under the shade of one of the many trees adjacent to the pool, and whilst it can be popular with visitors, we had it all to ourselves.

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One attraction that we hadn’t previously been to was the Stone Hut. This old hut had an important role during the gold rush era. In the 1880s, a track was created from Wyndham to the town of Old Halls Creek to bring in supplies and transport the gold, and the hut was the last rest stop for horses before continuing into the old town. We couldn’t find any signage for the hut when the vehicle track ended, but it wasn’t difficult to follow the well-worn walking track 200 metres across a dry creek bed to reach the ruins.

As good as these places were, there were plenty more gems waiting to be explored along the Duncan. Just prior to arriving at Old Halls Creek, we crossed the actual creek, which had plenty of water and was lined with eucalyptus trees. It made a great lunch stop and the shade was welcome during the heat of a typically warm Kimberley day.

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We spent the afternoon looking around the ruins of the old post office. Other buildings have pretty well succumbed to the elements except for the handmade stone walls of the cemetery. As with most pioneer cemeteries, we read some very sad stories on the fading headstones. It’s such a rugged and harsh landscape that we could only imagine how difficult conditions must have been for those early pioneers.

Continuing our adventure the next day, another gem along here is the tropical oasis of Palm Springs. The waterhole is permanently spring fed and is just beautiful. We’d heard that the tall date palms surrounding the springs were planted by Afghan cameleers during the 1800s, and this is another top spot where short term free camping is permitted. I’m sure listening to the trickling running water coming from the springs would be ideal for lulling any traveller to sleep!

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The jewel along the Duncan would have to be Sawpit Gorge. You’re going to love it! You can’t see the gorge from the road. After taking the turnoff, you travel on a narrow track that winds its way towards the gorge through red spinifex-covered hills. It’s not until you reach the car park, get out of your vehicle and walk closer that the gorge truly reveals itself. It is stunning! The area is begging to be explored if you’re keen to do a bit of bushwalking. You can swim in the Black Elvire River at the base of the gorge, and the cliff face lights up a rich red at sunset.

BREATHTAKING BUNGLE BUNGLES

There’s something mystical about visiting Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles). This ancient landscape is one of a kind, and it’s not difficult to see why it’s been listed as a World Heritage area.

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The National Park turnoff from the Great Northern Highway is only around an hour and a half from Halls Creek. Caravans aren’t permitted in the park as the access track can be narrow with plenty of rocky crossings, so you’ll need to make other arrangements. You could choose to leave your RV back in Halls Creek, or some travellers we’ve come across leave theirs at one of the free camps located along the highway. Alternatively, a caravan park is located only 1km from the highway along the National Park’s access track.

You know the scenery at the Bungles is going to be good when it’s great just travelling the access track!

The campgrounds in the National Park cater for a range of travellers, with one permitting visitors with generators. Toilets, untreated water, and firewood are all provided in the campgrounds.

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The southern end of the park has more of the typical orange-striped domes that most people associate with the Bungles, and they definitely look even more appealing up close. It’s hard to describe the grandeur of Cathedral Gorge with its magnificent amphitheatre, and the view from Piccaninny Creek Lookout is picture perfect.

The northern end also has a range of walks and some of these have interpretive signs. One  highlight along here is Echidna Chasm with its tall Livistona palms looking spectacular against the towering walls. Kungkalanayi Lookout has a panoramic 360-degree view of the ridges and surrounding escarpment, and is an excellent stop for taking sunset pics or enjoying happy hour with other like-minded travellers.

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The attractions in the National Park are well spaced, and therefore travelling between them takes time. You will need to allow a minimum of two full days to visit the popular attractions if you’d like to truly immerse yourself in what this unique place has to offer.

WOLFE CREEK CRATER NATIONAL PARK

Our final destination for our central Kimberley visit was Wolfe Creek Crater which can easily be seen with a day trip from Halls Creek. You will definitely want to add this attraction to your bucket list! This is one place that you need to see for yourself as photos really don’t do the crater justice. It is the second largest meteorite crater in the world with a span of nearly 900 metres, and walking down inside the crater gives you a completely different perspective. Luckily for us, our visit coincided with the wildflowers blooming, and the amount of birdlife inside the crater was phenomenal.

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FRIENDS FOR LIFE

It was with a heavy heart that we realised this Kimberley adventure was coming to an end. Even after so many visits, I still find it difficult to say goodbye…I feel like I’m leaving a very close friend! I have many theories as to why the region keeps drawing me back, but you’ll need to experience it for yourself to see if it has the same effect on you. So, for me, it goes without saying…I can’t wait to return!

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