Great Northern Highway reopens giving access to Kimberley towns of Kununurra, Wyndham and Halls Creek

The vast East Kimberley region in northern WA is no longer cut off from the rest of Australia, after Great Northern Highway reopened this morning between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek.

The critical transport link is the only sealed road through the region and closed on Monday after a tropical low brought heavy rain and flooding.

This left the East Kimberley towns of Halls Creek, Kununurra and Wyndham cut off, given the way east was also blocked due to flooding in the NT.

Main Roads this morning urged motorists to proceed with caution at the Bluebush Floodway, 10km east of Fitzroy Crossing, with some water still over the road.

The Bluebush Floodway, on the Great Northern Highway, north of Fitzroy Crossing, became impassable.(Supplied: Department of Fire and Emergency Services)

Freight from Darwin still cannot reach the East Kimberley, with Victoria Highway still closed due to flooding in the Northern Territory.

NT authorities expect that road will reopen in the coming days, or as late as early next week, pending a damage assessment.

The tropical low that brought the heavy rain has since drifted south, inundating communities across WA’s Pilbara and triggering flood warnings in the Gascoyne and Murchison.

The Great Northern Highway between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek has reopened.(Supplied: DFES)

‘Really happy’

Kununurra IGA Tuckerbox general manager Chris Burke expressed relief after the news came through this morning. 

He said two grocery trucks from Broome would hopefully arrive tonight and fresh produce would be unloaded tomorrow morning.

Milk started running low at Kununurra’s Coles supermarket after flooding closed major roads.(ABC Kimberley: Ted O’Connor)

“Really happy. Very excited and happy this morning. I’ll come in on my public holiday and unload the truck,” Mr Burke said.

“On this truck we have fresh milk and fresh fruit and vegetables.”

Fresh milk has run out at supermarkets in the region in recent days, but in general residents have enjoyed adequate supplies and perishable food. 

Mr Burke said people were mostly sensible about their purchasing.

“Fortunately the customers have been quite good. They haven’t been panic buying so our stocks have held up pretty well,” he said. 

It’s hoped the Victoria Highway will re-open in the coming days.(Supplied: Vic River Roadhouse)

To stay or go

Kununurra resident Carol Saunders has been waiting for days at Berry Springs, near Darwin, to return home.

“It’s a bit of an adventure,” she said.

“When we arrived the road south had been closed.

“The supermarket shelves were completely empty so there was no food in Darwin but being the intrepid travellers we are, we always have backup.”

Ms Saunders and her husband will decide today whether or not to return to Darwin and book flights home to Kununurra.

“Today was always going to be our D-Day,” she said.

“The problem is the length of time for the water to go down and then the road to be inspected.

“We are meant to be going back to work… luckily, we’ve got a house sitter looking after our dogs.”

The opening of the road has meant the region’s isolation has not been a repeat of last year, when supermarket shelves were stripped bare of fresh produce for a week, and supplies arrived via the air and sea.

Wet weather heads south

With the tropical low heading in a south-westerly direction, the Pilbara region has been inundated with heavy downpours in recent days.

The Great Northern Highway has now been closed between Marble Bar Road and Kumarina Roadhouse, and Marble Bar Road remains closed between Nullagine and Newman.

Flights in and out of Newman are facing significant delays after all flights were cancelled on Wednesday.

Marble Bar Road is closed between Nullagine and Newman.(Supplied: Ingo Oliver Zacharias)

The weather has also caused BHP to pause operations at its Whaleback mine site near Newman, while some Australia Day events have been rescheduled.

As the system moves further south into the Gascoyne, Midwest and Goldfields region, some are saying any rainfall will be welcome.

Shire of Upper Gascoyne tourism and community development officer Ainsley Hardie said the town of Gascoyne Junction had suffered through drought-like conditions in recent years.

“We’ve had a really dry spell here – we haven’t had a river since the first of April last year,” she said.

 “2023 has been a pretty dry year and we’ve yet to have any rain.”

Nonetheless, the community was preparing for the weather to turn.

“We’re working closely with [BOM and DFES] to monitor the situation and also prepare if we do get some rainfall,” Ms Hardie said.

“We were prepared due to our isolation and how easily we can get cut off when big rain events happen.”

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