Lewis had a transcendent experience taking in the biodiversity of Bandilngan in north-eastern WA, otherwise known as Windjana Gorge. He’s captured the experience to inspire you to visit too.
We acknowledge that this adventure is located on Bunuba Nation, the traditional Country of the Bunuba people who have occupied and cared for this land for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
Taking my first footsteps into the gorge at sunrise the first thing I notice is how silent and still the crisp dawn air is. Wild places seem to have a sense of calm and silence about them, even if they’re actually filled with the noise of life.
The calls of exotic birds soaring overhead on the early morning thermals echo off the cliff faces as I walk along the riverbed. As the sand crunches softly beneath my feet I stare up in wonder at the majestic cliffs towering above.
It seems that everywhere you look here life is bursting at the seams, from the chattering song birds in the bushes to the sound of freshwater crocodiles slipping off their sunning spots into the mirror-like water.
Welcome to Bandilngan
Meandering along the shady trail I can’t help but think how privileged we are to be able to explore such a sacred place. Bandilngan, as Windjana Gorge is known to the Bunuba people, holds an important place in both their ancient and more recent culture.
Bandilngan was used as a hideout by the famous Jandamurra, a Bunuba man who helped lead the rebellion against pastoralist invasion of the region in the late 1800s. He was a man who fought to preserve his people and country, and to keep this wild place wild.
It’s now a jointly managed national park between the Bunuba people and Parks Australia, allowing access to the public year round to soak up the wonder of this ancient place and hopefully learn something from its majesty.
Brimming with Freshies
Windjana Gorge is home to an impressive population of freshwater crocodiles, I counted well over 20 of them basking in the morning sun by the time I make it to the ‘beach’. They’ve clearly acclimatised to tourists taking photos of them as they seemed completely unphased by cameras clicking away as they lay there patiently, unaware of their newfound fame on a caravanning family’s Instagram page.
These ‘freshies’ are a smaller cousin to the infamous ‘salty’ or Indo-Pacific Estuarine Crocodile, thankfully they are also a lot more relaxed than their larger counterparts, so approaching them to within 6 metres or so is usually possible. It’s important to remember however that they’re still a wild animal, so giving the respect and distance that they deserve is always wise.
Read more: How To Stay Safe In Croc Country
Don’t Forget To Look Up!
The birdlife in Bandilngan is pretty amazing too; Great Bowerbirds are in abundance along with many different species of small and lightning-quick finches, nearly impossible to photograph but a great challenge all the same.
If you’ve never heard of a bowerbird before then do yourself a favour and check them out on Google, they’re fascinating birds, building the most intricate of ‘bowers’ to impress any potential mates. They’re known for their eccentric behaviour and always have a collection of stolen trinkets and treasures scattered across their bower. I’ve even heard of someone finding a diamond ring on the floor of a bower before so keep your eyes peeled!
Beating The Sun For Bushwalks
There are a number of fantastic walks that can be done early on in the day before it heats up too much, including one all the way through the gorge and back again. It was well worth waking up early for as it was a beautiful experience hearing the canopy come alive as we wound our way through the Monsoon vine forest trails.
Perhaps my favourite activity during my time visiting Bandilngan was the night walks. Spotlighting and stargazing are two of my favourite activities and the ability to combine both here was epic.
Read more: Stargazing: A How-To Guide
It was phenomenal how many creepy crawlies and critters called the trails home at night, with everything from massive Olive pythons to tiny centipedes.
My best tip to spot a snake out there is to head into the gorge just after dark and search the bases of the trees and gorge walls with a head torch or spotlight. We managed to find a couple different snake species each night, a diversity and abundance I wasn’t expecting considering that the cane toads managed to find their way here for the first time this year.
Read More: An Intro To Snake Spotting
The Problem With Cane Toads
The wake of destruction that the humble Cane Toad has left across the top end of Australia is truly staggering. Released in the cane fields of northern Queensland in 1935, these poisonous toads have swept their way across northern Australia killing almost every animal that has tried to eat them ever since.
There’s thought to be a 90% biodiversity loss in the reptiles of a region within the first 5 years of cane toads arriving, bad news for our newfound Olive python mates. Thankfully there are plenty of studies being performed by some of our nation’s most brilliant conservationists to help slow the invasion and effect of these toads across the remainder of the Kimberley
Bandilngan Is Like Nowhere Else
Visiting Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge) is a truly phenomenal experience, the vastness of its gorges and abundance of its wildlife is enough to remind you that wild places still do exist, but juxtaposed against its abundance is the ever-looming threat of our society’s downfalls. It serves as a timely reminder that these wild places need our help more than ever if we’re to preserve them for future generations to come.