The worst road in Australia leads to Mitchell Falls. It is the Kalumburu Road. It is a hard gravel road, corrugated so badly that the vibrations will find and shatter any weaknesses in the metal and plastic of your vehicle. It is a rocky road, full of washouts and pot holes. The rocks are sharp and pointed and cut through brand new tyres without a second thought. It takes 2 or 3 hours to travel less than 100 km and at the end of it you feel like you’ve spent the afternoon rattling around inside your washing machine on quick spin.
Hey, we know how to have fun!
It’s awful. We passed top-of-the-range offroad campers with broken axles, 4WD utes with lost bullbars, overheated red-faced men changing punctured tyres and recovery trucks taking trusted vehicles for repair. Inside our Land Cruiser, the bracket for the reversing camera fell apart. Outside, our metal toolbox, welded to the ute tray, was hanging by a spot weld. All fixed with some tape and strapping. We were the lucky ones.
So, I hear you ask, why oh why would you do it?
Oh it’s worth it. It’s worth all this and more to take the walk to Mitchell Falls. If you are visiting the Kimberley, this may well be the highlight of your trip. It was certainly mine.
Turning with relief off the Kalumburu Road, we navigated the deep King Edward river crossing then stayed overnight in the nearby Munurru campsite. This is a popular and attractive grassy site by the river, an excellent spot for weary travellers, with everything you need – swimming, fishing and good toilets. We sampled some of these delights, but didn’t stay long, leaving early in the morning to take the Mitchell Plateau track up to the falls before the sun rose to high in the sky.
This track was a rough one, but nothing like the day before. Lush livistonia palms took over the vegetation as we rattled further north, vibrant green fronds covered liberally with paprika red road dust as we passed. After a couple of hours we arrived at the car park, ready to walk to the falls.
It’s about a 9 km hike. 9 km of the most varied terrain imaginable. It had everything, I loved it. Let me count the ways… it had inviting swimming holes, ancient rock art, rock hopping over huge boulders, flat rocky plateaux with vertigo inducing drops, lilies, birdsong, inclines up and down, wading across a fast running river and then, at the end, the glorious Mitchell Falls, also known as Punami unpuu.
You feel small before the mighty Mitchell Falls, even at a distance. And you have to have that distance to take in the scale of the four tiered waterfall. The Mitchell River hurtles over a precipice before crashing down into a vast rock pool, collecting there, then tumbling down again, and again, and again, before continuing on its way to the sea.
The natural energy released here is vast. It’s tangible. You can feel the air humming with its unstoppable force. Looking across at the falls from my perch on the other side of the gorge, I couldn’t quite believe it’s raw, powerful beauty. A photo will not do it justice.
Of course, you can fly in by helicopter and hover above the falls without getting your feet wet, your brow heated or your clothes dusty. But to me, the journey is a must. I felt the same when I visited Uluru, you have to drive the corrugated road and walk the dusty track to feel the wild, remote power of these natural wonders.