Tag Archives: Outback

Mitchell Falls

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.

Looking for rock art at Mitchell Falls

Richard on the way to Mitchell Falls

 

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.  

Derby

Watch the sunset from Derby wharf.  Bring drinks, nibbles a comfortable chair and your camera, if you like.  Or simply your eyes and ears.

It’s not a big tourist town.   You won’t have to peer over the shoulders of Country Road clad holidaymakers from the big cities.   The wharf is simple, industrial.   Timber planking underfoot, walk out along the wide pier and watch the eddies of the tide swirl in the water.

Walk west along the wharf.  The water becomes translucent, rose pink, amber, shimmering.  The sun seems to grow larger, dripping its final molten rays into the sea.  I apologise for the flowery words, but it’s a beauty.

Halls Creek

On the way to the Bungle Bungles we stop in Halls Creek for provisions.   Our second battery, the one that powers the fridge and lights on the camper has not been charging and we ask around for a repair shop.   Halls Creek has everything a passing traveller needs and we soon find Reados Repairs.  

Reado gets stuck in straightaway.  Multimeter at the ready he checks the electrics, announces the second battery is not charging, but the main battery is good.   He can’t replace the Redarc charging unit that he thinks has failed, but jury rigs a bypass that will get us on our way.   Bush repair job done we wander into the Main Street.

The township has a bakery, a huge IGA, a butcher’s shop and a groovy new cafe next to the information office.   We guzzle down flat whites and mango smoothies.  They are rare delicacies after our days in the Tanami Desert.

At Halls Creek two worlds collide.  It’s a busy town.  Grey nomads are everywhere.  In their uniform of shorts, tshirts and caps, they fill up on diesel, water and free sugar, lifted from the local cafe.  There’s a large local population of indigenous folk too.  Groups of aborigines sit under shady trees as they have for thousands of years.   They watch the campers and caravans drive by with as little interest as they must once have watched birds fly from tree to tree.  I wonder what they think of the incessant busyness of the white man.  

School is out and indigenous children play on bikes or with footballs.   One grey nomad in tight blue shorts tries to cross the cultural divide.   “Lovely place this”, he calls to a tall bony local boy with a shock of black hair, baggy jeans and a loose football shirt.  The boy grins, shakes his head and looks around puzzled, as if to work out what the white fella could be referring to.  “Do you like living here?”, asks Mr Tight Shorts.  Another sheepish grin and the boy shrugs and slopes off, bare feet dragging in the dust.

In years gone by it was not so relaxed.   Alcohol took its toll and the community struggled with addiction, poor health and education.  New controls on alcohol sales seem to have helped.  Now police wear native designs on their shirts and their relationship with the black population  appears good.  For now the two worlds coexist.

Europeans first arrived here in the nineteenth century when Halls Creek was the centre of a gold rush.  There’s still gold in these parts if you know where to look.  At the caravan park we meet a couple of treasure seekers – modern day prospectors, looking for gold.   Ronnie is a wiry leathery skinned Croat with dyed jet black hair.  He speaks of gold with a passion and in an almost indecipherable accent.   He describes diving into rivers to chase an old seam and hunt underwater for the hidden gleam of yellow metal.  At Halls Creek he’s using a gold detector and a shovel.   He literally dreams of gold and has had some success.  He found 1 kilo last year.  Enough to pay for the occasional trip back to the old country.  His wife smiles indulgently.   It takes all sorts.

The Bungle Bungles

The road to the Bungle Bungles is rugged.  We turn off the bitumen of the Great Northern Road and drive fifty kilometres of wilderness track.   It’s sandy.  It’s rocky.  The road twists and turns, climbs and drops.   We turn a corner and are faced with a river crossing.   The cars driving towards us from the other side hurtle across, scarcely slowing as they enter the water,  bow waves washing over their bonnets.   Caravans rocking along behind.  It’s deep, but with a firm base.   Easy!  But unexpected.

The map says we should allow 3 hours to drive this fifty kilometres, but its not as slow as that with Richard at the helm and in 90 minutes or so we catch our first sight of the Bungles.   The towering red rocks sit on a lush landscape.   Silver gums, blood wood, spinifex (of course), black spear grass, yellow flowering acacias and red holly grevillea grow on the flat plains of the Purnululu National Park.  The afternoon sun casts long shadows and deepens the outback colours.  Beautiful West Australia.

We choose the unpowered campsite and find a shady spot for the night.  There are waterless toilets and bore water on tap.   All the mod cons we need.  Next door the site is set up for a family of six.   Five swags are laid out in a row.  Mummy and daddy bear have a double swag at the end of the row, followed by a swag each for the four little bears (teenagers all).   A shower stands at right angles to the double swag and a flood light is angled across the site.  Such a neat set up convinces me they must be Germans, and I’m a little disappointed to find out later that they come from Darwin.  German ancestors maybe?

Early in the morning we head off for the northern side of the Bungles.   Every viewpoint is dramatic and otherworldly.  We walk through the famous sandstone domes, striped red and black by the action of ancient bacteria on the soft stone.  They say the Bungles were formed 300 million years ago.  Impossible to imagine such a passing of time.  The path leads us over the pebbles of a dry watercourse towards Cathedral Gorge.   The rocks change colour, blushing pink as the hot Kimberley sun rises higher in the clear blue sky.


Cathedral Gorge is awe inspiring.  A vast cavern cut into the side of a towering chasm.  The floor is sandy and holds a pool of water.  Black traces high on the red rock tell of the waterfalls that cascade in to fill the chasm above head height in the Wet season.   Every footstep, bird call and human voice echoes around and around the rocky chamber.   This is why we build cathedrals with such high ceilings.   We can’t help but feel small in such vastness.   We can’t help but think of powers greater than ourselves.

We walk on, up a broad path with a pavement of huge flat slabs of stone.   It’s another dry water course.   It must become a white water river in the Wet.   When we make it to the lookout we are greeted by a bus tour crowd keen to capture a group photo.  Richard obliges.   ” Just one more”. “And for me”.   Cameras are passed back and forth until the appetite of the crowd is sated.   The final must-have photo is of the tour guides.   He leans away awkwardly while she snuggles up close and grins happily.
A quick sandwich, a few lemon cream biscuits and we’re ready to tackle Echidna Chasm.   Once again our walking boots crunch along a dry rocky watercourse, this time of pink, white and red pebbles.  The sun is higher now.  It’s hot and the cool shade is welcome as we enter the chasm.  Incredible orange red colours play on the flat walls.   Sturdy palms and vines cling on, their roots dangling down in search of water.  As we move deeper into the rock, the passageway gets narrower.  We can see the end.  “Not much further now, Beryl”.   I look up and the girl in front of Howard has disappeared.  I look back and Howard too has disappeared.   Like a magic portal, there is a gap in the rock that hides the final stretch of passageway.  I clamber through and walk the last few metres to view the end of Echidna chasm.

We take the afternoon off to relax at the camp.  Tomorrow we’ll tackle Mini Palms Gorge.  We’ve seen enough to know  it will be spectacular.   The Bungle Bungles are the Kimberley’s wonder of the world.