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Welcome to Life Images by Jill.........Stepping into the light and bringing together the images and stories of our world.
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I am a Freelance Journalist and Photographer based in Bunbury, Western Australia. My published work specialises in Western Australian travel articles and stories about inspiring everyday people. My passion is photography, writing, travel, wildflower and food photography.
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Monday, 24 October 2016

On the Road through the Kimberley, Western Australia

Back in July and August 2016 we took a return trip through Western Australia's north west Kimberley region to escape the winter down in the south west.

Days: 42 days
Camps: 22 (plus 2 nights in Perth)
Kilometres: 28,081
Litres of fuel used: 1,356 
Most expensive fuel: $2.05/litre at Mt Barnett Roadhouse on the Gibb River Rd 
Most nights spent in one place - Kununurra - 4 nights
Free camping nights - 8

Biggest changes since our last visit to the Kimberley in  2009 - Cane toads have now crossed into the Kimberley from the Northern Territory - they are an ecological disaster, lower water levels due to a dry wet season, and the improvement in the Gibb River Road. 

A long way, a lot of camps, and so much to see. We still haven't seen all that the Kimberley or the north west has to offer. 

Below is the Kimberley's iconic boab tree - I blogged about it here - The boab tree- adansonia gregorii 


Some fast facts: (from Kimberley Foundation Australia)
The Kimberley stretches 423,517 square kilometres in area. It is three times the size of England and approximately the size of California.
Population: Around 40,000 people, at least half of indigenous descent.
2,000 kilometres of coastline. At its closest point, the Kimberley coast is only 430km from Timor, and 3,000km from Perth, the capital city of Western Australia, in the south.
The geography is one of contrasts - deep rocky gorges, limestone caves, pristine lakes and waterfalls, volcanic remnants, sandstone cliffs, grassy plateaus, ancient mountain ranges and desert country.
 Economy: Key industries are mining, tourism, agriculture and aquaculture, pearling, and indigenous art.
 Climate: The Kimberley has two seasons, the dry and the wet. It is hot most of the year with average temperatures generally above 30 °C. During the wet, monsoonal rains inundate the region, rivers flood, and most of the area is impassable. During the wet, from November to April, the region receives about 90% of its rainfall.

Please visit Kimberley Foundation Australia for more fast facts.

When you see me refer to "stations" this means cattle stations (ranches for those in the USA). Kimberley stations are huge. Home Valley Station for instance covers 14,164 square kilometres. 

Here's a map to give you a bit more of an idea. Firstly we travelled up the Great Northern Highway to Broome, then continued on the Great Northern Highway to Kununurra in the east Kimberley, then along the Gibb River Road (the dotted line on this map) back to Broome, then home via the North West Coastal Highway.

 
We had computer trouble while we away and internet coverage was not good, so I wasn't able to blog as much as I expected, but since our return home I've brought to you a few blog posts about the Kimberley, and there's still lots more sorting of photos and blogging to do. But, the Kimberley is vast so where it start? So I have decided to bring you pics of each of our campsites and a little information, with the invitation for you the reader to tell me where you would like to know more about.

So we will start from the beginning. We left home during the afternoon of Tuesday 5 July and stayed with friends in Perth before setting off in earnest early the next morning. I love this part of the trip when the sun comes up over the open road ahead. That feeling of anticipation of a new adventure.



Camp 1 - Murchison River South branch, Great Northern Highway
1084 kilometres from Perth, we reached our first camp around 4.30pm. We had had rain for most of the day, and the track to our intended campsite was washed out so we had to look further on. However Murchison River south branch turned out to be a good option. This is a Main Roads 24 hour campsite which has toilets and plenty of space to get back a little from the road. Luckily the rain stopped just after we started setting up our camp. This is a popular free stop for travellers. I wrote about free camping here - Finding a camp in the great Western Australian outback



The next day it was still raining. We have travelled up and down the Great Northern Highway a number of times but have never seen the road looking like this. The water was actually flowing over the road.



Camp 2 - Bea Bea - north Auski Roadhouse which is 192 kilometres north of Newman. 
I would not recommend Bea Bea to anyone unless it is your only option. It is a small area on the west of the highway, just below the level of the road and mostly suited to caravans. There is a small gorge which you can walk to which is a pleasant stroll. 
The reason I wouldn't recommend Bea Bea is because of the mine trucks that run 24 hours a day past this camp - all night - 10 minutes apart. Needless to say we didn't get much, if any, sleep. You can see one of those road trains in the bottom left hand corner below. We thought they would stop at night-fall but we were wrong. They run 24 hours a day from a mine nearby to Port Hedland further north. 

 

Below you can have another look at one of those road trains which we overtook on the road the next day. Please be careful when you overtake these road trains. It takes a lot longer to get past than you realise. Make sure the road is clear ahead. Click here to learn more about overtaking from the Northern Territory government - NT-Gov-Driving with road trains



Camp 3 - Wallal Station at 80 Mile Beach - 2 nights
We camped at 80 Mile Beach for 2 nights. Whilst our camp didn't have any shade it was only metres from the beach. This is a very popular caravan park but they guarantee you a spot. The powered sites are shaded, but the powered sites were all taken, and we have a solar panel, so weren''t worried about having power. It was nice to have a hot shower after two nights on the road. The beach is great for fishing, fossicking or just walking or sitting and watching the sunset. 
The weirdest thing that happened here was on the first night our canvas dripped condensation all night - yes dripped - great drops of water. We've never struck anything like this before. I don't know what caused this. So the next day we rigged up our silver tarp over the top and had no problems.

  Camp 4 - Broome - Tarangau Caravan Park, Cable Beach - 2 nights
This is a smallish shady caravan park in the Cable Beach area. Our stop here was mostly to do washing, restock and catch up with some friends who were staying in Broome for the winter. Broome is a mulit-cultural town and has a history steeped in the pearling industry. We had a stroll around town, and visited a pearling display and the old Sun Picture Theatre which is the oldest outdoor picture theatre in Australia. Below right is a boab flower.


 Camp 5 - Dampier Peninsula - 3 nights - free camp
We went camping with friends on private property belonging to friends of theirs on the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome. Unfortunately I am unable to tell you too much about it or show you many photos as it is private property and they wish their privacy to be respected. But we had the most amazing time camping, beach fossicking, bush walking, bird watching, photographing wildflowers, fishing, mud crabbing and walking barefoot on the beach - all in a pristine environment. Probably one of the best experiences of our trip. Thanks Pete & Jo. I did bring you a few photos here -  Beaches like these

You get here on the Broome to Cape Leveque Road (see above map). On the way we stopped at the magnificent shell church at Beagle Bay. I blogged about it here -   Sacred Heart Church, Beagle Bay


The Broome to Cape Leveque road
Camp 6 -
Broome - Tarangau Caravan Park, Cable Beach - 2 nights
Sadly our 3 nights up in the Dampier Peninsula was over far too quickly and it was back to Broome for a quick restock, laundry, visited the Broome markets and a swim at iconic Cable Beach. You can have a camel ride on Cable Beach - something we are yet to experience. 

  
Camp 7 - Mary Pool, Great Northern Highway - free camp - 1 night
Back on the road again and into the Kimberley proper. You know you are in the Kimberley when you start to see the Boab trees. I blogged about them here - The Boab tree-adansonia-gregorii

 
 You really do welcome these rest stop signs when you are travelling up here - 


Mary Pool is a Main Road campsite between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek. It is a very popular overnight campsite for travellers, and it was a little difficult to find a spot to set up. I wondered how people could possibly leave toilets in such a mess!


 Camp 8 - Kurrajong Campground, Purnululu - 3 nights
When we decided to go back to the Kimberley, world heritage listed Purnululu (formerly known as the Bungle Bungles) was high on my list of places to revisit. We camped in the shady Kurrajong Campground about 7kms from the Visitor Centre where you pay your camping fees on arrival. Camp sites are on a pick your own basis and the campgrounds are basic - long drop toilets and water tap (not drinkable). The road in is corrugated with numerous creek crossings and is 4WD only. Allow 2-3 hours for the 53 km drive in.


The geology is spectacular. There are numerous walks and gorges within the park of varying distances and degrees of difficulty but I suggest you start the walks early in the morning to avoid the heat. Below right you can see the moon coming up at sunset at the prime sunset viewing spot.
My favourite gorge is Cathedral Gorge, which you can see below. I blogged about it here -  Cathedral Gorge, Purnululu


 Camp 9 - Lake Kununurra Discovery Caravan Park, Kununurra - 4 nights
We decided to rent a cabin at the caravan park for our 4 night stay. A little more comfort and space, our own shower and toilet and a real bed. 
We have been to Kununurra before, last time for about a week, but we still managed to fill in the 3 full days we were here. We took a cruise on the Ord River up to the Lake Argyle Dam and back. Conveniently we were picked up from the caravan park and returned just at sunset. The cruise included afternoon tea on the river bank and lots of stops along the way to see things along the river bank. 
We also caught up with a friend for lunch, went dragon boat paddling on Lake Kununurra, had afternoon tea at the Zebra Stone gallery, bought barramundi for dinner, took in the views from the lookout and drove out through the irrigation areas. 

I noted at the top of the post that one of the biggest changes we had seen in the Kimberley was seeing cane toads. You can see one in the collage below.
Cane toads became pests after being introduced into Australia to control destructive beetles in Queensland’s sugarcane crops. They have now spread across the top end of Australia. They are extremely poisonous and will kill any bird or animal that eats them, which means they are extremely destructive to our native wildlife. The cane toad is spreading across the top of Western Australia at a rate of 50kms per year. They are currently trying to work on a biological control. You can read more about cane toads here - Department of Environment



 Camp 10 - Parry Creek Farm - 1 night
Parry Creek Farm is about half way between Kununurra and Wyndham on the north coast.  Anne and Terry at Parry Creek were very welcoming. Unfortunately they had been in drought the last couple of years and their billabong which is usually abound with birdlife was rapidly drying up. However we enjoyed our overnight stop, drove up to Wyndham and the Five Rivers Lookout, visited beautiful Marlgu Billabong with its abundant water lilies and birdlife, watched the sunset from Telegraph Hill, and enjoyed stone-fired pizzas at Parry Creek. 



On to the Gibb River Road

From Parry's Creek we drove down the old Hall's Creek road and joined up with the start of the Gibb River Road and the next part of our adventure. This road is closed during the wet season, so please check the signage for road closures and let your tyre pressures down. 



  My article about the station stays and gorges of the Gibb River Road was published in Go Camping magazine October-November 2016 edition.


 The first section of the road is bitumen which then changes to gravel near the El Questro Station entrance. We didn't visit El Questro as we had stayed there a few nights on our previous trip.  Your first major hurdles will be the Pentecost River and the Durack River crossings. The level of the water varies at these crossings due to rain fall and tide levels. Below you can see the water level in 2009 on the left and 2016 on the right. This year it was little more than a puddle. The best way to gauge depth before you cross is to watch other vehicles. Please do not walk across to test the depth as there are salt water crocodiles in this river. 


  Camp 11 - Ellenbrae Station, Gibb River Road - 1 night
Our next camp was at Ellenbrae Station. During this year's trip we decided to visit stations which we hadn't visited in 2009. Ellenbrae was one of these. They advertise fresh scones and cream, and as they are only five kilometres off the Gibb River Road, and even if you don't intended camping overnight, stop in for scones and cream! 

There are two campgrounds and we were directed to Jackaroos Campground and set up our camp amongst some scrubby trees. We then went for a swim in the creek near Ringer's camp (see below right), and also visited Sandy Creek Gorge. It is a very narrow windy track in - no towing - and then about a 500 metre walk to a wide pool where you can swim.  Back at camp the hot shower was wonderful!


Camp 12 - Drysdale Station - 1 night
Drysdale Station is the jumping off point to the Mitchell Plateau. There is a large part-shade campground where you can pick where you want to set up, a few powered sites, hot showers, washing machines, bar, restaurant, and swimming in the river.  The temperatures were very hot so we decided not to drive the 170km along a very rough track and the 2 hour walk in to the Mitchell Falls which we had intended to do. Instead we booked a 2 hour flight from Drysdale Station which took us over the Mitchell Plateau and along the remote north coast. The flight was well worth the money we paid for it and the views were spectacular. Much of this country is remote and inaccessible, so flying is a great way to see some of it. 


Camp 13 - Mt Elizabeth Station - 2 nights
Our next stop was Mt Elizabeth Station about 30 kilometres north of the Gibb River Road. This is a working cattle station with a small camp ground, toilets, and hot showers. 
There is a walk trail which you can access from the camp ground. We went for a swim in the river at Warla Gorge - just a short walk from the parking area, and my husband had a fish but didn't catch anything. 
We also walked into Wunnumurra Gorge. This is a strickly a high-clearance 4WD only track. It is very rocky with big boulders to negotiate in parts. It look us 45 minutes to drive 9 kilometers to where we stopped, then another 45 minute walk to the gorge. It was very hot walking and we were looking forward to a swim when we got to the gorge. Unfortunately, the gorge is virtually inaccessible, but we were able to slop around and cool off in a pool at the top of the waterfall. Unfortunately their "mud" map didn't tell us all of that. Our wet clothes made it a little cooler for us on the walk back.

This wallaby with a joey in her pouch was quite happy hopping around the campground.



The Gibb River Road had much improved since our last trip. It was still corrugated in parts and you should drop tyre pressures and please drive to the conditions. There are numerous creek crossings but these all seemed to be either concrete or at least a hard base.



Camp 14 - Manning Gorge - 2 nights
It was not far from Mt Elizabeth to our next camp at Manning Gorge on Mt Barnett Station. You pay for your site at the Barnett Roadhouse - one of only two roadhouses on the Gibb River Road where you can buy fuel and a few supplies - like an icecream for instance! 
We had camped here last time and were happy to visit again. The large campground is partly shaded and you can choose where you want to camp. The river runs right by the camp where you can have a swim. From here it is about a 1 1/2 hour walk to Manning Gorge, with some rock clambering along the way. It is rather an exposed walk so make sure you wear and hat and carry water, but you are rewarded with a beautiful swim at the end.  The boat you see below is how you get from the campground across the river to the start of the walk - or you could just swim!  
You can also drive a short distance to nearby Galvans Gorge which is a pretty little gorge with only a short walk in. 



I couldn't help myself sampling the delights of the edible Rosella bush whenever I got the chance. You can see more of the beautiful Kimberley wildflowers in my post here - The wildflowers are blooming in the Kimberley




Camp 15 - Mornington Wilderness camp - 3 nights
The Mornington Wilderness camp is part of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. It covers more than 3,000 square kilometres and lies about 90km to the south of the Gibb River Road. They only take limited camp bookings, and a 2-way is located at the entrance, just off the Gibb River Road so you can phone ahead. 

Mornington is a wonderful place for bird watchers, and you can book a tour. You might be lucky to see the endangered Goulian Finch. There are gorges for swimming and we also hired canoes to paddle up Diamond Gorge - look out for fresh water crocodiles. We attended a slideshow evening where we learnt about the conservation work of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy - bring a warm jacket! There is a restaurant and an extensive reference library which includes bird and plant identification books. Mornington also have safari style accommodation for those who don't wish to camp. We thoroughly enjoyed our few days at Mornington and If you don't mind driving a little further, I would thoroughly recommend you add Mornington to your list. No power, but has hot showers and drop toilets. But watch out for the highly venomous local King Brown snake which might slither through your camp!



Camp 16 - Windjana Gorge - 2 nights
Windjana Gorge is the prime freshwater crocodile viewing area in the Kimberley so I certainly wouldn't recommend swimming here. Only a short distance off the Gibb River Road the partly shaded camp is managed by the Department of Parks and Wildlife and is the easiest of the Gibb River Road's gorges to access. The gorge where you can view the crocodiles is only a short distance from the camp along a walk trail. In the evening it is spectacular to see millions of fruit bats flying out of the gorge for their nightly feeding. For photographers the late afternoon is the time to set up your camera to capture the setting sun light up the walls of the gorge red and orange. 

We spent a couple of restful days here not doing too much. There is no power at the camp, but there are hot showers and drop toilets.  The Bower Birds were busy decorating their bower in the camp ground.
Further south you can visit Tunnel Creek and learn about the tragic story of Jandamarra during the early days of white settlement in the north.



Camp 17 - Cable Beach caravan park, Broome - 2 nights
Back in Broome for another 2 nights just to re-stock and do washing before heading home. We visited the Broome Historical Museum and went out to the shipping jetty. And our son had the opportunity to watch a Aussie Rules football match on our friends TV, something he had been missing out on while we were away. Luckily the team he barricks for won.


Camp 18 - Cape Keraudren - 1 night
Now heading back south and home, we stopped for a night at Cape Keraudren not far from Pardoo Roadhouse. We had stopped here way back in the 1980s on our first trip north. It had changed a bit since then - mainly in the number of people camping there. We couldn't get into the area just off the beach where we camped last time, so unfortunately had to make do with a site not as attractive. Amazingly there is Wifi access near the campground, but please protect yourself against sand-flies. No power or facilities other than long-drop toilets. I was excited however to see the Green Birdflower. I blogged about it here - Finding the Green Birdflower


 Camp 19 - The Cove Holiday Village, Point Samson - 2 nights
We also stopped here in the 1980s but were unable to get into the caravan park where we stayed previously. We decided to stay 2 nights, and took a day trip to Dampier and Karratha. We also visited the Art Awards exhibition at nearby heritage town of Cossack, where a couple of my friends had pieces displayed. It was a great exhibition but we were bitten badly by sandflies when we sat under the beach shelter for lunch, so we spent the next few days slathering on cream to alleviate the itches! You can see one of Cossack's heritage buildings below.
We also enjoyed an evening meal at the Point Samson Tavern and we filled out our census form and handed it in at the caravan park. I had the opportunity to photograph the beautiful red Sturt Desert Peas - Swainsona formosa



 Camp 20 - Lyndon River - free overnight camp - 1 night
We are now travelling in earnest on our way home.  You know what it's like - when you start heading home you just want to get home. Lyndon River is just an overnight stop on the North West Coastal Highway about 50km north of the Coral Bay/Exmouth turnoff. No facilities, just pick somewhere suitable. We had had a few roads works hold us up today but we arrived around 4.10pm, set up camp, and then wandered along the dry river bed (drive river beds are very common up here). It was windy when we first set up but the wind dropped later and we had a fairly peaceful night with only an occasional road train disturbing our peace.


Camp 21 - Gelena Bridge, Murchison River - free overnight camp - 1 night
About 13km north of the Kalbarri turnoff this is a very popular free overnight camp for travellers. Today we saw quite a few everlastings and other wildflowers along the roadside. We stopped a few times so I could take photos, but I knew we had to keep on the road to reach Galena before nightfall. We arrived about 4.15pm. This site is particularly suited to caravans and there were already a lot of people camping, but we managed to find a spot. Getting cold again, so we had a camp-fire and toasted marshmallows after tea. 



 Camp 22 - Sandy Cape - 1 night
Sandy Cape is located 10km north of the town of Jurien Bay. I wanted to go through this way so we could visit the Lesueur National Park about 30kms out of Jurien. I blogged about Lesueur and the magnificent wildflower display here - Lesueur wildflowers
We spent the afternoon driving and stopping to take photos around Lesueur. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to do any of the walks, but there were plenty of flowers on the loop drive trail. 

Sandy Cape is a minimal cost campground run by the Shire of Dandaragan. You can't book just turn up, find a spot and pay to the onsite caretaker. They are currently upgrading this campground so I expect the fees will go up. The campsites are just behind the sand dunes and the beach.  The wind dropped again in the evening, and it was a very cold night, but thankfully we were able to have a fire in the provided fire-ring. The only facilities are drop-toilet and unpottable water.



And home! The next night we spent with friends in Perth and the next day we arrived home on Monday 15 August. The rain started again on the way home. We started our trip in the rain and finished in the rain. But what a wonderful trip we had in between. We could have happily stayed away longer, but time does not always permit.

And what is the most essential for trips like these? Good planning, good maps, having your vehicle checked over before you go, driving for the conditions, carrying extra water with you, a sense of adventure, and willingness to change plans if you have to. 

So dear readers, there you have it - 42 days and 22 camps. Phew! No wonder we were sick of putting our camper trailer up and down by the time we had finished. 

I hope you have enjoyed this brief run down of our trip. It is no way a comprehensive account of the camping options in the north west, just a brief introduction. 

An invitation to you! If you would like to know about any of the destinations in more detail, please let me know, and I'll blog about them for you. 

Until then, thank you so much for stopping by. I value your comments and look forward to hearing from you. I will try to visit your blogs in return. Have a wonderful week.

I am linking up to the link-ups below. Please click on the links to see fabulous contributions from around the world - virtual touring at its best!


 

Mosaic Monday 
Life Thru the Lens 

Lifestyle Fifty Monday Linkup 
Our World Tuesday

Through My Lens 
Image-in-ing
Wednesday Around the World at Communal Global
Worth Casing Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday

The Weekly Postcard
 

19 comments:

  1. You do the traveling, take the pictures and share with us while we sit at home and armchair travel! Wonderful post! Have a great week!

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  2. What an amazing trip, it was fascinating to come along with you and visit so many interesting places. Australia is vast, my sister and brother live in NSW and we've seen quite a bit of the East coast. Thanks for sharing your adventure and wonderful photographs with us for Mosaic Monday.

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    1. Life Images by Jill28 October 2016 at 09:16

      Thanks Maggie. We still have to explore the east coast. Unfortunately it takes 4-5 days just to get there from here. But we will!

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  3. What a glorious adenture. Great photos, I loved the sunsets the best.

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  4. Thank you for the great tour and information about an area we know very little about. Looks like you had a great adventure on this tour.

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  5. Quite the trek. The landscape is certainly different from what I am used to here in Oregon.

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  6. Great shots and a very informative post.
    Thanks for sharing at https://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2016/10/along-way.html

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  7. Wow. That is some serious camping. Those mileage markers say it all. I'm visiting from Mosaic Monday.

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  8. Wow Jill, what an awesome adventure. And I knew the Kimberley was vast, but it wasn't until you see all the numbers written down that your realise how vast it is. The Pentecost River crossing is so beautiful - it has such an amazing aura about it - well, so too so many places in the region. I can't believe that cane toads have crossed over the border - that's awful. There was such a push to stop them when we were travelling in the Kimberley in 2012- as you say, an ecological disaster.

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    1. Life Images by Jill28 October 2016 at 09:18

      Unfortunately there worked hard to stop the cane toads at the border, but now they have gotten away and are now cane only try to control them to some extent. They are moving westward at about 50kms per year. Last years dry season slowed them up a bit.

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  9. What an amazing adventure you experienced. So many miles, so many sights! I'm sure you gathered many memories as well.

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  10. What a fabulous trip Jill. There were so many places that we stayed at too that you mentioned in your post. It brought back all the wonderful memories of our trip. We are yet to trek across the Gibb River Road so this will be the perfect reference for when we do. This part of Australia is incredible.

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    1. Life Images by Jill28 October 2016 at 09:20

      It is certainly an amazing part of Australia. I am so glad we got to go back and visit some places we didn't see last time. We still didn't see it all!

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  11. Congrats on the publication of your article!

    What's that tree in the first pic? Is that a baobab?

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    1. The tree is a Australian boab. It is a relative of the African baobab. They are only found in the north of Western Australia and a small part of the Northern Territory. I also blogged about it here - http://lifeimagesbyjill.blogspot.com.au/2016/08/the-boab-tree-adansonia-gregorii.html

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  12. I have always appreciated your ability to tell a story via your photos, changing from the broad sweep to the tiniest detail. Congrats, Jill.

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  13. Wow! What an adventure! Love all your photos. The area is huge (since you compared it with California, I can grasp the size). I like Cathedral Gorge too. I looks like a landscape straight out of Utah. #TPThursday

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  14. Such an amazing adventure! I would love to take this journey. We haven't been to Western Australia yet, but it is high on our list.

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  15. That looks like a really wonderful trip. So many great sights! I think that over the years, you have become my number one source for info about the Kimberley. I really hope to see it for myself one day, especially the boab trees. We do not have those road trains in Texas. Are there no regular railroads in the area?

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