Take a stroll along the banks of the Lennard River as it snakes its way through the towering remains of an ancient barrier reef system. This 3.5 km gorge is also home to a host of freshwater crocodiles that you can usually find soaking up the sun along the water’s edge.
What is it?
Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge) is part of the Napier Range, the limestone remains of an ancient reef system that was formed around 350-375 million years ago. Spot the many freshwater crocodiles, fruit bats and corellas that call the gorge home as well as the fossilised remains of marine life from this period in the gorge walls.
Where is it?
In the West Kimberley, about 2 hours (145 km) east from Derby. Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge) National Park is found along the (unsealed) Fairfax-Leopold Downs Road, not far from the start of the Gibb River Road. It’s a slight detour from the start of the Gibb, but Windjana Gorge and nearby Dimalurru (Tunnel Creek) (about 36 kms further east) are well worth the visit and the extra distance.
What to do?
If you want to spot freshwater crocodiles in the Kimberley, this is the place to visit! Don’t worry, or be put off by the name, freshwater crocodiles (freshies) are typically harmless, and those at Windjana Gorge seem very used to the daily visits in the dry season from selfie snapping humans!
It’s a short walk down an easily accessible trail to get to the gorge and the river which by the dry season is usually reduced down to pools of water at the base of the striking limestone range. Follow the trail from the car park through a narrow, cave-like passage then down towards the sandy banks. Keep an eye out for fossils in the gorge wall, freshies floating away in the sun, and spot boabs rising up against the grey and orange streaked gorge walls.
One of the best times to visit is around sunset. Grab a deck chair (and a drink!) and make yourself comfortable along the sandy banks of the river to watch the gorge walls light up a deep orange colour in the golden light. Stick around after sunset and watch the bats fly overhead – and keep an eye out for the occasional freshie trying to snap up dinner.
What not to do:
Jump in for a swim; while the Kimberley is known for great gorges to swim in, this isn’t one of them and swimming isn’t advised. Also, don’t get too close to the crocs. While freshwater crocodiles are usually safe and usually will only try to attack and defend themselves when they are threatened (like most animals!). Be respectful, keep your distance and don’t get between them and the water.
Inaccessible during the wet season, Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge) is usually open between April – November. It also has a campground that can be booked online for the peak of the dry season (1 June to 31 October), up to 180 days in advance. The campground has limited facilities but does have flushing toilets and hot showers! Dimalurru (Tunnel Creek) National Park, also part of the Napier Range, is located nearby and people often combine a visit to the two sites.
Windjana Gorge, also known as Bandilngan, is a highly important site for the Bunuba people. It’s said that the powerful Wandjina creation spirits reside there, hence its name, which was incorrectly recorded as ‘Windjana’ by William Forrester, a nearby pastoral lease holder in the late 1800’s.