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Wolfe Creek Crater
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On the edge of the Great Sandy Desert and the extensive spinifex grasslands of the East Kimberley lies the Wolfe Creek Crater

The crater is the second largest crater in the world from which fragments of a meteorite have actually been collected. In 1968 the crater site was made a national park with an area of 15 square km (6 square miles).

Wolfe Creek Meteor Crater
Wolfe Creek Meteor Crater  (image by John Goldsmith)

It is a testament to the size and isolation of many parts of Australia that it wasn’t until 1947 that Wolf Creek Crater was discovered.

Its discovery came during an aerial survey of this part of the Kimberley region in 1947, when geologists Frank Reeves and NB Sauve, along with pilot Dudley Hart, spotted an unusual circular structure almost a kilometre in diameter. Naturally intrigued by what they saw, they were keen to inspect it a little closer.

Two months later, Reeves and Hart reached the site on foot and made the first detailed investigation. Their suspicion that it was a deep crater was confirmed after they climbed up the outer sloping flanks of the structure and looked down to the floor, some 30 metres (98 feet) below. As they made their way up the slope of the crater rim they would have seen rusty balls of rock scattered on the ground or fused to the laterite.

The hole that it gouged out of the earth reportedly varies in diameter from 950 meters (3116 feet)to 870 metres (2854 feet). The only bigger crater undoubtedly made by a meteorite impact is the Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona.

Barringer Meteor Crater
The Barringer Crater is the largest meteor crater in the world.

Geologists studying the crater have estimated that a meteorite weighing more than 50,000 metric tons struck the Earth at an estimated 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) per second. Geologists conclude that besides punching a hole into the Earth’s surface, the impact shattered rocks well below the ground surface, and the energy from the meteorite’s rocket-fast movement changed into heat, liquefying both the meteorite and the nearby terrestrial rocks. The resulting explosion threw rocks and debris in every direction. Some of the rocks remaining in the crater now result from the meteorite itself. These rocks now take the form of rusted balls of iron-shale. Occurring in clusters, these balls can weigh as much as 250 kilograms (550 pounds) apiece.

NASA photograph of Wolfe Creek Crater
NASA photograph of Wolfe Creek Crater

Visiting Wolfe Creek Crater

This fascinating landmark is located some 145kms to the southeast of Halls Creek, a small town on the eastern edges of the Kimberley.

A camping area in the national park is free to visitors and includes cleared sites and toilets.  Even though there are toilet facilities at the national park, there is no source of water. Therefore, motorists must prepare enough for the duration of the journey. No bins are provided so visitors are requested to remove their rubbish. Visitors are also encouraged to leave rocks and cultural artefacts as they find them.

Access is most commonly made by car, along Tanami Road. This route is mostly gravel and dirt, and can be extremely corrugated in places. Therefore, using a four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended, and driving with caution is always advised.   It can be reached after a two to three-hour drive but is only accessible to conventional vehicles during the dry season.

The Tanami Road
Driving the Tanami Road near the Wolfe Creek Crater turnoff

Exploring Wolfe Creek Australia on foot is a great way to see the crater up close. Sightseeing, walking, photography and nature observation are the most popular activities. There is a walking route from the rim to the heart of the meteorite crater, although this can be steep and rocky in places.

Wolfe Creek Crater walking track
Allow for a 3 hour walk along the trail at Wolfe Creek Crater.

For a more relaxed experience, visitors can always choose to see the site via a scenic air flight from Halls Creek. A bird’s eye view of this phenomenon cannot be beaten.

Wolfe Creek Crater from the air
A bird’s eye view of Wolf Creek cannot be beaten.

Crater climb - A 200 metre return walk to the top of the crater rim involves a steep rocky climb. Climbing down into the crater is not permitted because the steep terrain and loose rocks make it dangerous.

Dragons and cockatoos - Among the broken rocks on the crater wall you may see a brown ringtail dragon stalking insects that frequent the flowering shrubs. Mammals are active at dawn and dusk, avoiding the heat of the day. Spectacular and noisy Major Mitchell cockatoos harvest seeds from the wattles and paperbarks of the crater floor.

dragon lizard at Wolf Creek Crater
A dragon lizard enjoying the sun at Wolf Creek Crater

The best time to visit - The best time to visit the park is from May to October, when the weather is fine and temperatures are moderate.


Indigenous Australian Cultural Significance

The local Djaru (Jaru) Aboriginal people refer to the crater as Kandimalal. There are multiple Dreaming stories about the formation of the crater.

One such story describes the crater's round shape being formed by the passage of a rainbow snake out of the earth, while another snake formed the nearby Sturt Creek.

Kandimal Rainbow Serpent
Kandimal ( Wolfe Creek) Rainbow Serpent

Another story, as told by an Elder, is that one day the crescent moon and the evening star passed very close to each other. The evening star became so hot that it fell to the ground, causing an enormous explosion and flash, followed by a dust cloud. This frightened the people and a long time passed before they ventured near the crater to see what had happened. When they finally went there, they realised that this was the site where the evening star had fallen to the Earth.

The Djaru people named the place "Kandimalal" and it is prominent in art from the region.

Cultural References

  • The crater was featured in the 2005 horror film Wolf Creek, and the sequel in 2013, Wolf Creek 2. It also features in the Stan Australia streaming service original television series with the same name.
  • It was the setting for Arthur Upfield's 1962 novel The Will of the Tribe.
  • The Wolfe Creek crater has considerable claim to be the second most 'obvious' (i.e. relatively undeformed by erosion) meteorite crater known on Earth, after the famous Barringer Crater in Arizona.
  • The crater is mentioned in the children's science fiction book Alienology that says (in its universe) that a space craft crashed there.

 A visit to the second biggest crater to yield meteor fragments in the world, in Western Australia - Published by Peter Marshall



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