After the “Three Gorges” we continued to the renown Mitchell Plateau National Park along the Gibb Road and then up the Kalumburu Road. We expected to do a bit of 4WD’ing after we turned onto the Kalumburu. The road was not the dirt Expressway of the Gibb where 95-100km was ok, we had to drop back to 80km the road had at least some corrugations, steep hills and creek crossings. However the scenery was wonderful, there was a range of landscapes – from swamps through to woodlands and rainforest – all home to diverse wildlife. The Darngarna (Livistona palm) is of special significance to the area, due to the age of the species – some of the palms are up to 280 years old. It is such a surprise to be driving through typical Australian Bush and suddenly find yourself driving through a forest of palms for 5-10km – just wonderful.
We stopped for the night at Miners Pool next to Drysdale Crossing, a more remote camping facility provided by the Drysdale River Station and preferred by us to minimise the number of people we had around us. Tony, the tour guide, had a great knack of getting us into all allowable bush camping sites with no-one else around, and Sandra and I preferred these to crowded campsites. At the Drysdale Station there was no option, you were on their property and had to camp where they provided. Miners Pool was more remote from their up market camping spot that had luxuries like showers, shop, fuel, ice creams and the Internet. Miners Pool did provide multiple long drops that were made from 44 gal drums cut in half, placed upside down and the seat “secured” on a hole cut in the drum. I tried one first and the whole apparatus started to collapse to the left from rust. Everyone thought this was appropriate as I was the only bloke on the trip that admitted to voting labour and a left leaning dunny was left to me, the rest walked another 100yds to get a more centred position.
Miners Pool had one other attribute, the fiercest mozzies we encountered on the whole trip, large welts came up where they struck and they could get you through your tee-shirt. We were better prepared on the return journey 3 days later when I had 2 shirts and a lot more DEET. The river had fresh water crocs and people went swimming, we were not yet convinced that swimming in water with any type of Croc was a good idea but it did not seem to bother a lot of others.
Next day after another 160km of the Kalumburu Rd we turned off into the 85km track into the Mitchell Falls. Again we had heard horror stories about this track and found it much more challenging than anything we had travelled so far but the whole team was happy to get a workout. We had to be a little careful but not what you would call tough. Even still, we came across some people that had had their whole front-end collapse on a rental just an hour before. Tony, who is a great bush mechanic, had a good look at it and called their rental company in Alice Springs via his satellite phone and gave them the precise problem and their GPS co-ordinates and after making sure they had plenty of food and water we left them there on the track. Apparently the rental company said that it would take them 1-3 days to get there and recover the vehicle, they must have been good to their word as 3 days later when we returned they were gone and there was no “stripped” and “burnt” vehicle like we had seen many times before. This was a good reminder to us all how remote we were and had been, one reason we travelled with Tony and Brenda is that they know what they are doing, how to show you all the aspects of travelling in these places and minimise the impact on your vehicle, and they know how to keep you on the road when something goes wrong. Tony made minor repairs on ours and other vehicles in the group with no fuss or drama and he always did a great job explaining the how and why of the problem and the fix, he is really a great teacher of all things practical, and a bit of a bush philosopher to boot.
The Mitchell Falls region of the Mitchell Plateau is very beautiful sandstone country. The area is well signed and the walking trails are very well marked. There is a large camping area near the Mitchell Falls carpark which was very crowded and scenic helicopter flights available. Some of our party chose to catch the helicopter to the top of the falls and walk back down with the group. The falls are a 4km walk from the main campgrounds. As it was so hot, our group left early (7:15am) in the morning to do the walk. The falls have a large amount of water which rushes over the top of the cliff face and cascades down in a series of large waterfalls. There are basically four tiers of the falls that can best be seen from the opposite vantage points looking back at the falls. Nevertheless the great views, colours and intense ‘energies’ of Punamii Unpuu lead most people to call this place ‘the jewel in the crown’ of the Kimberley. We swam in the head waters above the falls and with a twinge of concern about crocs and the current heading to the falls we ended up relaxing and enjoying a long cool swim before the walk back to the camp.
The Ranger was a great guy to chat with and when he gets stressed and there are too many people in the park for too long, he gets the helicopter pilots to take him up the coast and drop him off for 3-5 days of solitude and fishing. The day before we arrived he had an emergency where a tourist had fallen on rocks and had a head injury, they helicoptered him to Derby. Two years before another person went too close to the cliffs and slipped over the edge and was killed, so we were quite careful. Sandra and I went swimming in a creek near the campsite and there was a freshwater croc also there, we had finally started getting over our fear of the Fresh’ies at least, the fact that there were 5 other people in there before us had nothing to do with our confidence in getting in.
We were told that Mitchell Falls would be the highlight but I guess we had been spoilt by the quantity and quality of the great places we had been up to now. To us the highlight had definitely been the Horizontal Falls.