Freshwater crocodiles are becoming more aggressive in Geiki Gorge as they grow familiar with human traffic. They soak up the sun on the sandy banks of the Gorge, mouths open in a long lazy yawn. Occasionally one will slip into the water for a feed of barramundi or smaller fry. Like their larger more dangerous cousins, the saltwater crocs, they are a remnant from the age of the dinosaur. They proliferate here under the protection of the national park.
We take a boat trip along the Gorge with the Departmemt of Biodiversity, Environment and Attractions. I think I’ve got that right, the park ranger stumbles over the clumsy new name. We glide across the water in an unsinkable flat bottomed boat, 25 years old. She’s to be replaced with a fancy upgraded version later in the month. The new boat, costing millions, will have toilets, bow thrusters and a shiny paint job featuring smiling crocodiles. This may draw in the punters, but the toilets and bow thrusters can’t be used in the national park, and the ranger will be sad to see old faithful go.
The Geiki Gorge stands tall above us. It is the remnant of an ancient Devonian coral reef. The water has cut into the rock over the years, creating vast overhangs that shade the river. A fig tree high up on a limestone ledge stretches its roots hundreds of metres down to dangle them in the cool clear waters below. Pink and white, sculpted like the backbone of an enormous dinosaur, we marvel at nature’s artwork.
The crocodiles fascinate us. Young ones lie in groups and slide into the river for safety as we pass. A grumpy old grandfather looks up to see who has woken him from his dozing, then closes his eyes again to dream of fish suppers.
It is late in the afternoon when we leave the Gorge and the sun is sinking rapidly. Five o’clock is sunset this far north. We drive back to Fitzroy Crossing where the local rodeo is in town. Then head off on the road to Broome. Howard is convinced he can find a little bush camp out of town.
The bitumen road to Broome holds little hope for the bush camper. On and on we drive, as the setting sun drops lower and lower in the sky. Finally the turn off to Tunnel Creek appears to the right. It’s a gravel road. Maybe there’s a place to stay for the night.
We drive along several kilometres of fenced road without luck. Then, up ahead two boab trees stand sentinel either side of the road. Their branches like arms raised in silhouette against the twilight. “This looks promising”. We find a clear spot near a fence corner, build the camp fire and set up for the night.
In the morning we wake to see that our sentinel trees mark the start of boab country. The landscape is dotted with these incredible bottle shaped trees. Their trunks are a shiny elephant grey, skin stretched over a knarled skeleton. Some are huge and ancient, covered in warts and with misshapen limbs. Others are young and supple, lifting graceful bodies to the sky like ballerinas. A couple stand together, entwined in each other’s arms, trunks leaning close, whispering sweet nothings.
The boab is more than the average tree and this is their country. Boab country.