A haven for nature lovers, wilderness
A safari tent set up for tourists at remote Mornington Wilderness Sanctuary in the Kimberley.

As I flop onto my bed for an afternoon kip just after arriving at the Kimberley's Mornington Wilderness Sanctuary, three agile wallabies bounce past the window as if on cue.

With songbirds twittering outside in the sultry afternoon heat, the discomfort of the dusty corrugations of the Gibb River Road and bouncy winding track to Mornington is soon forgotten, replaced by peaceful dreams.

Owned and managed by the non-profit Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Mornington is a spectacular sanctuary spanning more than 3000sqkm of gorges and tropical savannah in the very heart of the Kimberley.

Two hours south of the Gibb River Road, it is about as remote as camping gets in WA. The nearest town is 5½ hours by road and a plane visits just once a week, delivering mail and care packages to the researchers and hospitality workers who live there.

Once a cattle station, Mornington was acquired by AWC in 2001, destocked and transformed into a haven for hundreds of rare and threatened native species.

Two hundred bird species including the rare purple-crowned fairy wren and Gouldian finch call Mornington home, along with 32 species of mammals and 600 of plants.

While research on these species goes on all year round, the wilderness camp is open from May to October and is well appointed for luxury and budget campers alike.

A maximum of 50 people is allowed to camp out on the unpowered sites, which have excellent ablution facilities, adding to the sense of peace and quiet.

Ten safari-style tents along the banks of Annie Creek, a tributary of the Fitzroy River, are available for $250 per adult a night and $120 for children, including all meals.

Solar-powered and tucked into the bushes for privacy with a breezy balcony overlooking the water, each tent includes a mini-bar, double and single bed, stainless steel fan and ensuite with shower and toilet - watch out for green tree frogs hiding under the rim.

Each room contains field guides for species identification - even amateur twitchers can spot up to 100 different birds of the 200 found at Mornington in a single day.

There are plenty of activities for all ages to enjoy, including daily tours to Dimond and Sir John Gorges, ecology and bird tours and guided canoe trips.

A visit to the bluebush swimming hole, or Cadjeput, with a picnic lunch hampers is also a must, along with the guided termite walk.

On the sunset tour, the crimson fire of the gorge walls, reflected in crystalline waters, creates the prefect backdrop for a glass of wine and cheese platter on the warm sandstone ridge.

Dinner is served in the licensed restaurant about 6.30pm each evening and afterwards, Mornington's interpretive officer talks visitors through the sanctuary's extensive conservation and research work aimed at stopping the extinction of native species.

Camp manager Diane Scarsi says less than 10 per cent of the money the camp makes is spent on administration costs and all profits go back into the conservation and research effort.

"We could probably fit a lot more people in, but we don't want to - we want people to enjoy the wilderness," she says. "It's the stillness and remoteness - it gets in your blood and you just want to keep coming back."

For more information or bookings, phone Diane Scarsi on 1800 631 946 or email mornington@australianwildlife.org.

The West Australian

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