Devonian Reef – Overview & Things to See and Do
Windjana Gorge, Geike Gorge and Tunnel creek cut through rugged limestone ranges that form part of Western Australia’s famous Devonian “Great Barrier Reef”. The barrier reef belt grew some 350 million years ago during the Devonian Period when the area south East of Derby was covered by tropical sea. It is now exposed to reveal some of the most spectacular landforms in the Kimberley.
Things to See and Do
Tunnel Creek National Park
Western Australia’s oldest cave system, in Tunnel Creek National Park, is famous as a hideout used late last century by an Aboriginal leader known as Jandamarra . He was killed outside its entrance in 1897.
Tunnel Creek flows through a water worn tunnel beneath the limestone of the Napier Range, part of the 375 to 350 million-year-old Devonian Reef system. You can walk 750 metres through the tunnel to the other side of Napier Range, wading through several permanent pools and watching for bats and the stalactites that descend from the roof in many places. At least five species of bat live in the cave, including ghost bats and fruit bats, and stalactites descend from the roof in many places. Take a torch, wear sneakers and be prepared to get wet .
Things you need to know
Where is it?
Tunnel Creek National Park covers just 91 hectares. It is 115 kilometres from Fitzroy Crossing, 180 kilometres from Derby, 30 kilometres south-east of Windjana Gorge.
Two and a half hours from Fitzroy Crossing and two and a half hours from Derby.
What to do:
Cave exploration, sightseeing, walking and photography.
Tunnel Creek is a day use area with facilities limited to toilets and an information shelter.
The best season to visit is between May and September and the park is usually inaccessible during the wet season.
Windjana Gorge National Park
The walls of Windjana Gorge rise abruptly from the wide alluvial floodplain of the Lennard River, reaching about 100 metres high in some places. The 3.5-kilometre long gorge cuts through the limestone of the Napier Range; part of an ancient barrier reef, which can also be seen at Geikie Gorge and Tunnel Creek National Parks.
The Lennard River runs through the gorge in wet weather, but during the dry season it forms pools surrounded by trees and shrubs.
The deep, moist soils of the riverbank support the tall broad-leaved leichardt tree, native figs and the paper-barked cadjeputs. These trees also provide shelter from the hot sun for many waterbirds, a colony of fruit bats and a large group of corellas. Freshwater crocodiles can often be seen in the pools.
Things you need to know
Where is it?
150 kilometres from Fitzroy Crossing and 145 kilometres from Derby.
Three hours from Fitzroy Crossing and two hours from Derby.
What to do:
Camping, sightseeing, walking, photography, nature observation.
Gorge Walk – a 7 km return walk takes you along the full length of the gorge and back. It runs along the course of the Lennard River, which becomes a series of pools in the dry season. It allows you a close look at the gorge’s resident fruit bats, corellas and freshwater crocodiles.
Camping (toilets and water).
In Western Australia’ s far north Kimberley Region, the flood waters of the Fitzroy River have carved the 30-metre-deep Geikie Gorge through the limestone at the junction of the Oscar and Geikie Ranges.
During the wet season, the Fitzroy River rises about 16.5 metres, staining the walls of the gorge and flooding the national park with seven metres of water.
In the dry, between April and November, the river transforms itself into a quiet stream strung out beneath the towering cliffs of the Devonian reef. Unlike modern reefs—which are built by corals—algae and a group of now extinct lime-secreting organisms built the bulk of this reef.
The limestone ranges, formed from the ancient barrier reef, wind across the country between 50 and 100 metres above the surrounding plains, in much the same way that the reef would have reared above the Devonian sea floor. From the air, it’s easy to imagine that the sea has just withdrawn, leaving the reefs uncovered.
Here, layers of fossils and the limestone strata of an ancient reef are exposed in cross section, showing glimpses of life in the Devonian period before reptiles or mammals evolved.
Many tropical aquatic lifeforms live in the waters of the Fitzroy River. The striped archer fish shoots down insects in flight or from foliage overhanging the river by squirting a thin jet of water. Freshwater crocodiles bask on the riverbanks. They eat frogs, fish and birds and are not generally considered to be a threat to humans if left undisturbed.
The thick vegetation of paper-barked cadjeputs and river gums supports a colony of fruit bats and a rich variety of bird life. Among the shrubs and reeds are birds such as the reed warbler and the rare lilac-crowned wren. The great bower-bird can be seen foraging nearby.
Waterbirds include the darter, white egret, little pied cormorant and the white-breasted sea-eagle—a species not often found so far from the sea.
Things You Need To Know
Where is it?
Geikie Gorge National Park is 20 kilometres (20 minutes) from Fitzroy Crossing (nearest town) and 280 kilometres from Derby.
Park opening times:
Open 6.30 am–6.30 pm (April–November) for day visits. Entry restricted during wet season (December–March) when Fitzroy River floods.
Toilets, water, gas barbecues, information shelter, tour boats, access for disabled people. Due to the wet season floods, the above facilities are only available between April to November. The gorge is a day use area only so camping is not allowed. There are a range of facilities at nearby Fitzroy Crossing.
What to do:
Sightseeing, photography, walking, nature observation. The east bank is a sanctuary zone for wildlife, no unsupervised entry to this area. Freshwater crocodiles do live in the gorge, although they are not usually a danger to people. Parents should take care of small children.
Reef Walk : Pleasant walk along the base of one of the gorge walls, 3 kilometres return, moderate difficulty, allow 1 hour. Best early morning and late afternoon. Carry drinking water, and avoid climbing the reef wall as the terrain is extremely rough and dangerous.
River Walk : Easy 20-minute return walk along the banks of the Fitzroy River to the Sandbar, a popular fishing and swimming place. Swimming is at your own risk. Beware of submerged snags and logs, avoid diving into water.
Boat Tours : The CALM boat tour is 1.5 hours duration. Departure times are 0800,1100 and 1500. During early and late season (April/May and September/November) tours may be less frequent because of lower demand. Check with rangers to confirm on (091) 91 5121 or (091) 91 5112. Boat tickets on sale 20 minutes prior to cruise at gorge. No booking required for individuals, but tour groups and coaches need to book well in advance on (091) 91 5121 or fax (091) 91 5165.
The Darngku Aboriginal Cultural Tour departs 0815, Monday–Friday, April–October. Tickets must be booked through the Fitzroy Crossing Tourist Bureau on (091) 91 5355.
Private Boats : During the dry season, April–November, boats and canoes are permitted access to the gorge after 1630. You must notify rangers before launching your boat.
Ranger: Rangers are based in the park throughout the dry season.