The bulbous boab trees fascinate me as we travel through the remote outback townships of Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing. Some line the red dirt roadsides in groups like welcoming parties beckoning travellers forward along the highway. While others keep a solitary lookout on proceedings from up above.
With ghostly grey trunks that resemble bustled ball gowns they cling to tiger-striped cliffs and spread their leafless curving limbs out across the horizon in perfect contrast to the Derwent-pencil blue skies. It’s like driving through a cartoon sketch in full technicolour.
Soon, I began to find faces in the gnarled trunks and notice arms outstretched, fingers curled and even an occasional leg kicked up as if caught mid-tango. Some seem to be playing ring-a-rosy while others have thrown their heads back as if in the midst of a huge belly laugh or perhaps to take a deep breath before belting out the chorus of some silent boab performance.
We stopped to visit some artists’ workshops (glass blowing, silk painting, boab carving and woodwork) took a tour of nearby Tunnel Creek (once a hideout of an infamous aboriginal outlaw) and checked out the old Crossing Inn (site of many a wicked bar brawl in its hey-day) before heading out to a bush campsite that we’d been recommended. It turned out to be an 11km journey down the roughest stone covered dirt track we’d come across so far.
But we were rewarded with a flat grassy valley in the basin of an old quarry. We set up camp under some shady trees and went for a cooling dip in a nearby crystal clear lagoon. On the way back we collected firewood so the driver could indulge his pyromaniac tendencies and also display his culinary skills by cooking bread in the camp oven.
He was one happy little camper that night!
We headed onto Derby where the Fitzroy River flows out onto King Sound. The main claim to fame here is the enormous tides (up to 11metres) and because of this the town is surrounded by mudflats and mangroves. So its also mudcrab heaven. The huge circular wharf is a hub for mining and cattle exports from the region as well as being a great place to fish, catch crabs and watch the sunset.
I got caught up with the local gossip getting my haircut (as well as getting all the sordid details of the hairdressers love life!) while the driver kept himself busy taking one of his ‘adventures’ on the scooter. He’d set out to explore the 4WD trails but was soon completely disorientated by a watery mirage out on the endless grey mudflats. Luckily he was able to use the compass on his phone to guide him safely back to town plus it made a great story over a few frothies that night!
After a couple of warm lazy days the driver had eaten his fill of mudcrabs (he was easily netting the limit of 10 per day) and he was raring to tackle the next item on his dog-eared bucket list – The Horizontal Falls
Boarding a small sea-plane we flew out over the Buccaneer Archipelago. This group of over 800 of the most remote islands in the world is also home to the famous Horizontal Waterfalls. These falls are like massive rapids created by huge tides rushing through the narrow gaps between islands and despite my misgivings the driver was determined to get up close and personal with the whole she-bang.
All was going well as our little plane landed smoothly next to a floating pontoon in the middle of a calm turquoise bay surrounded by lush tropical islands. We were shown to our elegant staterooms on the adjacent floating hotel and served refreshments on the upper deck. Then some fools (certainly not me!) took the chance to swim in the viewing cage below deck while the resident sharks were being fed.
So far, so good – but then we were all kitted up with lifejackets for the boat ride out to the falls. Cue the feelings of turmoil and terror for me while the little fella was now so pumped up that he couldn’t wipe the grin off his face.
Everyone rushed to nab the front row seats but I’d been told the seats in the centre of the back row were the least bumpy, so I made a beeline for those – and the driver reluctantly followed. We did a cruise around a few of the islands where we glimpsed gorgeous bays lined with wavy tri-toned cliffs to lull us all into a false sense of security before we headed out to the falls. I squeezed my eyes shut as we drew nearer the swirling waters hoping to quell my fear but after the first crossing I sneaked a quick peek. Soon, I began to enjoy the ride and by the time we returned to the pontoon, I was disappointed it was over!
We enjoyed sundowners on the top deck followed by delicious BBQ buffet dinner and finally headed off to our cabin to enjoy the lapping sounds of the water as we slept.
After breakfast the next morning we jumped at the chance for a quick chopper ride out over the falls and returned just in time to board the boat again for another spin cycle. This time I headed to the front row seats to get a better view but the lower tide meant we had less spills and not too many thrills. We boarded our seaplane, waving goodbye to the friendly young crew who live and work in this idyllic location.
Flying back over the mudflats we landed amid the boab trees out on the red dust plains of Derby. We’d not only had an amazing trip but we’d experienced a totally different aspect to this incredible part of our country.