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Charnley River Station, off the Gibb River Road in Western Australia, makes a great base to explore the numerous gorges and waterholes found in this part of the Kimberley.

WORDS ROBERT NORMAN PHOTOS PETER RYAN AND ROBERT NORMAN

CHARNLEY RIVER STATION, WA EXPLORE 078

Charnley River Station, off the Gibb River Road in Western Australia, makes a great base to explore the numerous gorges and waterholes found in this part of the Kimberley.

SAFE DRIVING

THE Gibb River Road has been upgraded and has few corrugations. There are numerous river crossings, which should be treated with caution for rocks and hidden holes.

P REVIOUSLY known as Beverley Springs, Charnley River was the first property along the Gibb River Road to offer tourist accommodation.

In 2011 the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) took over the management of the station.

The AWC also owns and operates the 3000km² Mornington Wilderness Camp 140km to the south-east, which incorporates stretches of the Fitzroy River and King Leopold Range.

Like Mornington, Charnley River was attractive to the AWC because its isolation and rugged terrain has protected the habitat of many animal species that have disappeared from other areas due to the impact of humans and feral animals.

With its spectacular complex of red sandstone ranges and rugged gorges carved by rainfall, the Artesian Range which covers half of Charnley’s 300,000 hectares is home to more than 30 animal species found nowhere else in Australia.

Protected by topography and high rainfall, the Artesian Range offers a glimpse into the past as it is possibly the only region in mainland Australia that has not experienced any animal extinctions since European settlement. It also remains one of the few places in Australia where the Gouldian Finch, with its colourful plumage, still clings to existence.

Access to Charnley River is by way of a 42km gravel road that leaves the Gibb 250km east of Derby near Imintji Store (one of the few supply and fuel outlets along the Gibb). The Station campground will invite you to stay longer. Grassed with plenty of shade and generator and non-generator camping areas, amenities include showers, flushing toilets, communal barbecue and fire pit (with wood provided) and, surprisingly (considering the remote location), WiFi. With an ample supply of drinking water on tap, Charnley River also provides an opportunity to top up your tanks. And, perhaps best of all, being located some distance off the Gibb, Charnley River tends to be not as crowded as other nearby campgrounds, such as Silent Grove and Manning Gorge.

The principal tourist attractions on the station are several gorges, of which the most distant (Lily Pools and Grevillea Gorges) are 20km to the north of the campground. Lily Pools is located at the top of Grevillea Gorge and access to the gorge floor necessitates climbing down a ladder bolted to the cliff face. Good views can be had from the lookout above the ladder, so go and check it out.

While the station tracks are in relatively good condition, the drive to Lily Pools takes about two hours as it’s slow going in some sections where cattle have pugged the surface during the wet season. Unlike other gorges along the Gibb you will probably have the place to yourself, and yes, it is safe to swim

IT IS SAFE TO SWIM HERE WITHOUT THE RISK OF BECOMING A MEAL

here without the risk of becoming a meal for some hungry reptile. That said, the water does attract less threatening reptiles in the form of Green Tree Snakes and Merton’s Water Monitors, both of which regularly show up around the waterholes (and might give you a bit of a fright).

Heading back towards the homestead, a side track takes visitors to nearby Dillie Gorge, which is another beautiful swimming spot. For $40 visitors can hire a canoe and paddle the 400m length of the gorge, possibly stopping along the way to have a leisurely BYO lunch while soaking up the natural beauty around them. Even closer to the campground is Donkey Pools, which is a favourite with families as swimming is possible in any of the three gorges there.

The station offers a nature walk for bird lovers and, with more than 192 recorded species of birds, the area is a twitcher’s paradise. Dawn brings a cacophony of bird calls around the campground as the avian population declare their territory while warming themselves in the first rays of sunlight. al lare st

FILLING UP

Fuel (diesel and petrol) can be purchased at the Imintji Store and Mt Barnett Roadhouse (diesel only). Expect to pay in excess of $2.40 per litre for diesel.

THE STUNNING SCENERY AND NUMEROUS NEARBY GORGES AND WATERHOLES INVITE EXPLORATION

In addition to offering pleasant camping facilities and some great attractions of its own, Charnley River makes a handy base to visit other nearby tourist drawcards. Perhaps the best known and arguably the most delightful gorge in this part of the Kimberley is Bell Gorge. The road into Bell Gorge passes Silent Grove which, with its shady campsites, solar hot showers and drinking water on tap, is another great place to take a break from the heat and dust of the Gibb.

From the gorge car park, a 750m track ends at a large waterhole with spectacular views of water cascading rock steps to another large waterhole below.

Both waterholes are safe to swim in, but, as Bell Gorge is one of the most popular tourist stops in this part of the Kimberley, you almost certainly won’t be on your own.

Arguably the best time to check it all out and visit is late in the day when most of the travelling public have scuttled back to camp for Happy Hour. It’s also a great time to get some holiday snaps when the warm, late afternoon sun lights up a conical red sandstone hill that overlooks the gorge. g down ro rho

TRAVEL PLANNER

WHERE

The Kimberley, located in far north-west Western Australia, is an area of 423,000km² and is approximately 5000km from Melbourne by road. Charnley River Station is 250km east of Derby on the Gibb River Road.

WHEN TO TRAVEL

Most roads and campsites in the Kimberley are closed during the annual Wet season. The most pleasant time to travel is between May and August.

Outside of those months, expect temperatures of 35°C (or greater) accompanied by humidity.

STAYING THERE

Charnley River Station camp fees are $20 per person per night (children $10) plus a one-off vehicle access fee of $25. The camp includes facilities for the disabled and offers WiFi internet.

Booking is not required and pets are not permitted. Mobile reception is non-existent.

SUPPLIES

Visitors should plan to be totally self-reliant. While most campsites have water available, boiling is advisable. Basic food supplies are available from the Imintji Store and Mt Barnett Roadhouse.

ROAD CONDITIONS

Tyre damage is a major issue on the Gibb, and Neville, the local mechanic near Imintji, sees several stuffed tyres a day due to fractures from sharp stones that the regular grading of the Gibb drags into the path of vehicles. Neville suggests running pressures of around 35psi.

CONTACTS

Charnley River Station www.australianwildlife.org Phone: (08) 9191 4646

A little farther north on the Gibb and 14km before Mt Barnett Roadhouse (which claims to sell the best hamburgers in the Kimberley) is another gorge worth stretching your legs for. From the car park on the Gibb, an easy 1km walk to Galvans Gorge follows a shady track alongside a bubbling creek resplendent with blue flowering water lilies in its small waterholes. The track ends at a larger body of water with a waterfall on the far side and a magnificent boab tree silhouetted on the skyline above. Galvans Gorge is a truly peaceful and tranquil location, and early aborigines must have felt the same way, given the beautiful example of Wandjina rock art on the cliff next to the waterhole.

A little farther on, Manning Gorge, located 7km off the Gibb, can also be accessed from Mt Barnett Roadhouse after parting with an $8 entrance fee. Visitors first need to pull themselves across the river in a tinny to reach the track to the gorge, which takes an hour and a half each way. The walk is fairly open and, as this is the tropics, a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water is the order of the day. The gorge falls are impressive, as is the waterhole beneath them, and climbing to the top of the falls reveals more swimming holes upstream. With Manning Gorge campground being close to the Gibb and situated near a sandy beach on the river bank it is very popular with campers. The downside is that the camp can be very noisy at night and anyone looking for peace and solitude should head on to Charnley River or Silent Grove.

Anyone wanting to see the best the Western Kimberley has to offer should consider Charnley River Station as a base. Its spacious campground means you won’t be cramped with fellow travellers, while stunning scenery and numerous nearby gorges and waterholes invite exploration.