PREVIOUSLY known as Beverley Springs, Charnley River was the first property along the Gibb River Road to offer tourist accommodation.
In 2011 the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) took over the management of the station. The AWC also owns and operates the 3000km² Mornington Wilderness Camp 140km to the south-east, which incorporates stretches of the Fitzroy River and King Leopold Range.
Like Mornington, Charnley River was attractive to the AWC because its isolation and rugged terrain has protected the habitat of many animal species that have disappeared from other areas due to the impact of humans and feral animals.
With its spectacular complex of red sandstone ranges and rugged gorges carved by rainfall, the Artesian Range which covers half of Charnley’s 300,000 hectares is home to more than 30 animal species found nowhere else in Australia.
Protected by topography and high rainfall, the Artesian Range offers a glimpse into the past as it is possibly the only region in mainland Australia that has not experienced any animal extinctions since European settlement. It also remains one of the few places in Australia where the Gouldian Finch, with its colourful plumage, still clings to existence.
Access to Charnley River is by way of a 42km gravel road that leaves the Gibb 250km east of Derby near Imintji Store (one of the few supply and fuel outlets along the Gibb). The Station campground will invite you to stay longer.
Grassed with plenty of shade and generator and non-generator camping areas, amenities include showers, flushing toilets, communal barbecue and fire pit (with wood provided) and, surprisingly (considering the remote location), WiFi. With an ample supply of drinking water on tap, Charnley River also provides an opportunity to top up your tanks.
And, perhaps best of all, being located some distance off the Gibb, Charnley River tends to be not as crowded as other nearby campgrounds, such as Silent Grove and Manning Gorge. The principal tourist attractions on the station are several gorges, of which the most distant (Lily Pools and Grevillea Gorges) are 20km to the north of the campground.
Lily Pools is located at the top of Grevillea Gorge and access to the gorge floor necessitates climbing down a ladder bolted to the cliff face. Good views can be had from the lookout above the ladder, so go and check it out.
While the station tracks are in relatively good condition, the drive to Lily Pools takes about two hours as it’s slow going in some sections where cattle have pugged the surface during the wet season. Unlike other gorges along the Gibb you will probably have the place to yourself, and yes, it is safe to swim here without the risk of becoming a meal for some hungry reptile.
That said, the water does attract less threatening reptiles in the form of Green Tree Snakes and Merton’s Water Monitors, both of which regularly show up around the waterholes (and might give you a bit of a fright).
Heading back towards the homestead, a side track takes visitors to nearby Dillie Gorge, which is another beautiful swimming spot. For $40 visitors can hire a canoe and paddle the 400m length of the gorge, possibly stopping along the way to have a leisurely BYO lunch while soaking up the natural beauty around them.
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Even closer to the campground is Donkey Pools, which is a favourite with families as swimming is possible in any of the three gorges there. The station offers a nature walk for bird lovers and, with more than 192 recorded species of birds, the area is a twitcher’s paradise.
Dawn brings a cacophony of bird calls around the campground as the avian population declare their territory while warming themselves in the first rays of sunlight. In addition to offering pleasant camping facilities and some great attractions of its own, Charnley River makes a handy base to visit other nearby tourist drawcards.
Perhaps the best known and arguably the most delightful gorge in this part of the Kimberley is Bell Gorge. The road into Bell Gorge passes Silent Grove which, with its shady campsites, solar hot showers and drinking water on tap, is another great place to take a break from the heat and dust of the Gibb.
From the gorge car park, a 750m track ends at a large waterhole with spectacular views of water cascading down rock steps to another large waterhole below. Both waterholes are safe to swim in, but, as Bell Gorge is one of the most popular tourist stops in this part of the Kimberley, you almost certainly won’t be on your own.
Arguably the best time to check it all out and visit is late in the day when most of the travelling public have scuttled back to camp for Happy Hour. It’s also a great time to get some holiday snaps when the warm, late afternoon sun lights up a conical red sandstone hill that overlooks the gorge.
The Kimberley, located in far north-west Western Australia, is an area of 423,000km² and is approximately 5000km from Melbourne by road. Charnley River Station is 250km east of Derby on the Gibb River Road.
WHEN TO TRAVEL
Most roads and campsites in the Kimberley are closed during the annual Wet season. The most pleasant time to travel is between May and August. Outside of those months, expect temperatures of 35°C (or greater) accompanied by humidity.
Charnley River Station camp fees are $20 per person per night (children $10) plus a one-off vehicle access fee of $25. The camp includes facilities for the disabled and offers WiFi internet. Booking is not required and pets are not permitted. Mobile reception is non-existent.
Visitors should plan to be totally self-reliant. While most campsites have water available, boiling is advisable. Basic food supplies are available from the Imintji Store and Mt Barnett Roadhouse.
Tyre damage is a major issue on the Gibb, and Neville, the local mechanic near Imintji, sees several stuffed tyres a day due to fractures from sharp stones that the regular grading of the Gibb drags into the path of vehicles. Neville suggests running pressures of around 35psi.
Charnley River Station www.australianwildlife.org Phone: (08) 9191 4646