Day 43 Drysdale Station to Day 56 Katherine Gorge
Nitmiluk, Northern Territory
Day 43 - Monday 13th May 2013 (Travelled 191 kms )
Lots of rain last night here at Drysdale Station and hence a cooler morning (still shorts and T-shirt weather though). Left Drysdale Station to head to Mitchell Falls (Punamii-Unpuu). The caravans have been left behind and the next couple of nights we will tent it! The Kalumburu Road is corrugated in sections but for the best part of the trip it's not bad driving. We crossed the Drysdale River and noted that the scenery up and down the river course was very pleasant on the eye. We turned off the Kalumburu Road onto the Mitchell River Road. We crossed the King Edward River which was a lovely river running through this area and a challenge to cross when there is plenty of water around. We met up with a couple who are volunteer rangers and they camp out at the Campground here. A most informative and friendly fellow who gave us the heads up to visiting a couple of aboriginal historical spots nearby. They were down monitoring the level of the river when we met up and after the rains from last night they were hoping the river wouldn't rise too much, and thus the road to Mitchell National Park would need to be closed. Nevertheless, we were honoured to be able to visit these two aboriginal sights. The first one just to the left of the river had the most remarkable rock paintings, extraordinary and the best any of us had ever seen. It was interesting and you could easily identify the art formations. The second site was a little further past the campground and along with more rock art there was an aboriginal burial ground which holds much heritage to the community in this area. The whole area of the Mitchell National Park (World Heritage) has significant Aboriginal heritage and cultural values. The park covers 15,000 hectares and is a rugged wilderness. The rock formations are just incredible. The forests of the Livistonia Palm, (known up here as the Mitchell River Palm) are in abundance and they are just stunning. As we approached the plateau the road began to look more like a river and there were plenty of long pools of water to wade through. Roads to rivers! The cars were now in disguise with the "Kimberley Tan", as the red mud became caked on.
Tent set up, Ralph and Anne did the modifications to their car to allow them to sleep inside rather than in a tent. The night was balmy and still, making it difficult to sleep. We were all disturbed during the night by the sounds of the howling dingoes, they seemed like they were just sitting right outside the tent (Ken reckons the ranger supplied dingo sounds throughout the bush to give the visitors the full wilderness experience).
Day 44 - Tuesday 14th May 2013 (Foot travel of approximately 5 kms)
We left camp to head to the helipad for a weigh in and to pay for our helicopter flight back from the falls. On track we had a small river crossing before reaching Little Mertens Falls. It's another hot and humid day and the pools of water above the falls is so refreshing - here we stopped off for about ½ an hour to sit in the rapids too cool off before heading down the track further to the base of the falls. A little oasis here amongst the palms and ferns and the cascades of water spilling over the falls. With some rock scrambling we were able to climb in behind the falls. This is an aboriginal site with many paintings again seen on the rock faces and up under the falls in open caves. Back on track and now we have an easy walk along grassy tracks before again scrambling up and down rocks along the Mertens River to finally reach another set of falls (Big Merten Falls) tumbling down into a huge canyon below. More rock scrambling, another aboriginal historical painting site and then reached the Mitchell River and the Falls. Here we paddled in the water before heading around to view these spectacular falls. With the heat of the day now upon us we enjoyed a refreshing cool swim. The helicopter ride took us 1500 feet above the falls giving a grand view but being so high the falls seemed so small in comparison to being at ground level.
Day 45 - Wednesday 15th May 2013 (Travelled 192 kms)
Leaving Wednesday morning at 8.50 am heading back to Drysdale Station. We stopped at the King Edward Campground (Munuru Camp) and met up with the ranger once again. He pointed us in the direction of some waterfalls which were delightful. Fiona scrambled up onto the rocks to get a photo and encountered a small brown snake squeezed in between the rocks. Back at Drysdale to another wet, rainy night. A nice afternoon catching up at the bar with the owner and staff. Annie the owner said her hubby John contracts to the Council and takes out a grader on "search and destroy missions" to fix the really bad sections of the road and this explains why we suddenly have good and bad sections of the road.
Day 46 - Thursday 16th May 2013 (Travelled 244 kms)
Broke camp at 8.45 am this morning after determining the roads were open after the continual rains of last night. The corrugations were still there but the roads were very sloppy this morning with many mud soaked puddles to navigate. A couple of Australian Bustards were on the road and as we approached, they took flight. These birds are the largest flighted birds and did take some time to take off and get going. An amazing array of different birds sighted - parrots, galahs and budgies along with 100s of corellas taking pride of place in the trees along the Bindoola River. Today is made up of some amazing scenery, mountains and valleys. The Pentecost Range and River are stunning and then, there is the beautiful and most famous Cockburn Range. Tonight we are camped on the banks of the Pentecost River (on the right side, away from the Salties) at Home Valley Station.
Day 47 - Friday 17th May 2013 (Travelled 60 kms)
Leaving Home Valley Station after the last scanning of the Pentecost River for crocodiles. One of the large crocodiles sitting on the bank downstream, said to be 5 metres long and named Cedrick by the locals has been around these parts for 40 years. Not long into the journey we came upon the Ford at the Pentecost River, a crossing which is the most famous along the Gibb River Road. The crossing is extremely wide and rocky but not deep. To the right we have the Pentecost Ranges that are small in comparison to the Cockburn Ranges ahead. The views of the Cockburn Ranges were awesome, very rugged in appearance. This impressive range is most prominent along the Gibb River Road, the sandstone escarpments rise 600 metres above the surrounding area. This part of the Gibb River Road was extremely rocky and fairly corrugated so travelling slower made it easier to take in the sights of these ranges. Off the Gibb River Road, we turned towards El Questro Wilderness Park and Station. The Station is situated on the banks of the Pentecost River. We are bush camping here for two nights so we can visit some of the gorges and the thermal pools located on this 1 million hectare privately owned pastoral lease.
This afternoon we boarded the Wandjina (flat bottomed boat) for a cruise up stream on the Chamberlain River into the magnificent Chamberlain Gorge. It is recognised for its beauty, rock formations and as we cruised along this stretch of water at the northern end of the gorge, the enormity of the power of water and erosion has left a huge impact. A ½ hour stop up the gorge as far as we can travel and we are encouraged to partake in a fish feeding frenzy (Archer fish, Catfish and then everyone's dream catch a couple of large Barramundi), enjoyed a glass of champagne and some delicious locally produced fruit, a lovely way to spend the afternoon.
Dinner at the El Questro Steakhouse and then wandered over to listen to the Ranger talk about the history of El Questro and what is coming up in the future. Also listenedd to a couple of young fellows from Newcastle University who are studying frogs. They were incredibly informative and you could tell they certainly had the passion.
We would like to just remind you that it's HOT!!, but worst of all is the HUMIDITY. PHEW!!!!!!.
Day 48 Saturday 18th May 2013 (Travelled 72.3 kms)
We woke again early to get to Zebedee Springs, a lovely little oasis amongst the livistonia and pandanus palms, to reach the thermal pools and its lush tropical rainforest. These are permanent thermal pools and are surrounded by King Leopold Sandstone cliff formations. The permanent water supplying the pools originates deep within the earth's interior. High pressure and heat inside the earth keep the water temps around 32 degrees all year around. An easy walk on a lovely morning.
Onto walk into El Questro Gorge, shady, a slightly difficult walk in amongst the rocks and running creek to reach a swimming hole, a relaxing and welcoming swim as the morning heats up.
Next on the agenda was to travel to a couple of spectacular lookouts which required a few 4 WD skills up goat tracks. The first was Saddleback Ridge Lookout and standing here on the platform we were provided with spectacular 360 degree views over the park, station and the homestead in the distance.
After lunch we followed the road out to Explosion Gorge (part of the Chamberlain Gorge System) to travel to Branco's lookout. After this steep ascent we were rewarded with a view over Branco's waterhole, the Homestead, Chamberlain Gorge and the Cockburn Range. Visited the waterhole where the boys tried their luck at fishing, Ken catching a catfish. On the way back to camp we began the trek to Pigeon Hole but it was looking very much like a 4'oclock track, so we decided to turn around. It gets dark very quickly in this part of the world and explorations at this time of night could be fraught with danger.
We had the BBQ dinner and listened to local guy, Chris Matthews, a wonderful guitarist and banjo player. A wonderful day and night was had.
Day 49 Sunday 19th May 2013 (Travel 150 kms)
Leaving El Questro our sights were for Emma Gorge and the end of the Gibb River Road. Emma Gorge is part of the spectacular Cockburn Ranges and is a dominant landmark in El Questro's Wilderness Park. The walk takes you along a very rocky route, scrambling huge rocks in the river bed. The large permanent pool at the top was surrounded by three towering cliff faces and the shade was welcoming as was the cool waters of the pool. There is a continuous flow all year round from the waterfall. We feel that this was by far the best gorge that we scrambled into. We were ready for the long trek out but Anne slipped falling heavily down one of the rocks (the sandstone at times was very slippery underfoot). Anne sustained some injuries but being very brave was able to walk out. In Kununurra Anne had a short hospital visit (for observation) ending up with a couple of broken ribs and a nasty knock to her head (which was now bruising up) We had a lovely corned beef dinner that Anne had prepared earlier (lucky hey!).
At the end of this day we have finished our Gibb River Road Trip and have reached Kununurra, staying at the Kimberley Caravan Park, which was a bit cosy! Our caravan site did offer a view of the Elephant Rock (sleeping Buddha) - this being a large rock formation on the other side of the Kununurra Lake. It would be spectacular at sunset but tonight it is very overcast.
Day 50 - Monday 20th May 2013 (Travelled around town)
A day to spend looking at the sights in Kununurra. The Zebra Rock Gallery - a gallery that is a 600 million year mystery. This rock is only found in Kununurra and can only be accessed for a very short period of time. It is a very attractive fine grained siliceous argillite with patterns of red bands and spots with a white background. Lunched at Ivanhoe Café and then onto the Hoochery (WA's oldest legal Rum Distillery). The Hoochery is family owned and is located in a rustic style showroom constructed from recycled materilas. The boys sampled a few of their award winning Rum and Liqueurs. A stop at the Sandalwood Factory (from Soil to Oil) to sample and purchase some of their wares. A quiet afternoon back was had back at the caravan park. As dark began to fall we watched not the sunset but instead an electrical storm over Elephant Rock. The caravan park resident Freshwater croc, who I think just kept a close eye on us just sat quietly at the water edge. Just letting you know that it is humid and these nights are particularly hard to get to sleep. Anne was very sore today and very brave! (Anne says she is just feeling miserable!!)
Day 51 - Tuesday 21st May 2013 (Travelled 263.3 kms)
Left Kununurra at 8.45 am for our journey south to the Bungles. A cloudy, but hot and steamy start to the day and by 9.30 am it was already 30 degrees. The Great Northern Highway presented us with extraordinary sights of various mountain ranges including, the O'Donnell Ranges, the Carr Boyd Ranges and Durack Ranges. We reached the Bungle Bungle Caravan Park early afternoon and after set up Nanna naps were in order. A lovely quiet afternoon of relaxation camped down by the creek (no water and no other people).
Day 52 - Wednesday 22nd May 2013 ( Travelled 162.1 kms)
Today we travelled into Purnulula National Park (Bungle Bungle Range). A rocky drive along Spring Creek Track and prior to reaching the NP we are on the pastures of Mabel Downs, but the views again were spectacular. The World Heritage listed Purulula National Park (2003) is the first national park in the Kimberley to be jointly managed by the Aboriginal Traditional owners and the Department of Environment and Conservation. There are not enough superlatives to describe the Bungle Bungle Range, we were blown away. It is renowned for its striking beehive domes and cone shaped formations. These domes are made of sandstone deposited 360 million years ago and have eroded over time to leave behind gorges and chasms. It covers an area of 239,000 hectares. An awesome sight and you can see why it is such a special place. A helicopter ride over the range, our pilot Glen being particularly informative, he loves his job. 30 mins of grand splendour, a must if you visit. The enormity of these ranges is evident, we were travelling at 160 kms per hour but it felt like we were suspended in mid air.
Anne and Ken walked the Dome track, an easy 1 kilometre loop walk winding around the towering banded domes. Fiona and Ralph walked into Cathedral Gorge, an easy 3km return walk through striped domes, sand towering cliffs and honeycomb rocks to the end of the gorge which opened into an amphitheatre. A small, non permanent pool, surrounded by the most incredible sandstone structured rocks is the prize at the end of the trek.
Day 53 - Thursday 23rd May 2013 (Travelled 360.2 kms)
Bright and sunny at 7.45 am and we are leaving the Bungles and heading to Lake Argyle passing through, more amazing mountain areas and rock structures on the journey into Kununurra to top up with a few supplies - butcher and supermarket. At Lake Argyle, camp is done and the Infinity Pool with a glorious view of the lake is awaiting. We are booked in for the sunset cruise tomorrow night - the cruise we are lead to believe Charlie says is fabulous.
Day 54 - Friday 24th May 2013 (Lake Argyle)
Well a change in the weather last night giving us some relief with a lovely cool breeze. During the night you could hear folks up securing awnings and hammering in pegs, the breeze has picked up for sure…. Today is the perfect day for a cruise and hopefully a wonderful sunset.
This morning we drove to the lookouts and down to the dam wall and took in the sights of the Ord River and part of its gorge. Lake Argyle is classed as an inland sea, this magnificent freshwater lake being Australia's largest. It is nestled amongst a very old landscape within the spectacular Carr Boyd Ranges. The lakes surface area is over 1000 sq kms , the shoreline being 900 kms and it holds more than 18 times more water than Sydney Harbour. The lake was created by damming the Ord River and acts as a storage for the Ord River Irrigation System. The main crops grown in the first stage of the irrigation system is sandalwood followed by many fruit and vegetable crops. Stage 2 of the irrigation system is to commence in the very near future.
We visited the Argyle Homestead Museum (part of the remains that had been recovered before the dam was flooded and is now beautifully and partly restored). The museum gave insight into the lives of our pastoral pioneers and in particular the Durack Family. The other section of the homestead is under the waters of the lake.
Our sunset cruise approaches. We watched a DVD giving us all the information regarding the building of the Lake. Our host on board the "orange boat" from Lake Argyle cruises was Steve. Exceptional in his knowledge, the scenery was fantastic, one that won't be forgotten any time soon. After cruising around the edges of the lake as if on safari for freshwater crocs, we were fortunate enough to see a few basking in the afternoon sun. Not all too happy as the boat slowly got closer and headed into the water, all but one biggish one that keep a watchful eye. We ventured out to the site where the Durack Family Homestead once was, now covered in water, and then took in the sights of the sunset and luckily enough to see the moon rising. Out the front is the sunset and out the back the moon rise. A most relaxing way to spend the afternoon!
Day 55 - Saturday 25th May 2013 (Travelled 342 kms)
Back onto the Victoria Highway and not long until we reach the WA/NT border. Timber Creek is a fuel and lunch stop and again we are witness to diverse land formations including Gregory National Park and Victoria River. The Victoria River is the Territory's largest waterway and is believed to be a great fishing spot for Barramundi. We stopped off at Gregory's Tree, the large boab stands at the campsite of the early explorer Augustus Charles Gregory, an expedition undertaken between October 1855 and July 1856. There are inscriptions of these dates on the tree. The tree also has special significance to the local aboriginal people and has been classified as a sacred site.
We have set up camp tonight at Victoria River Roadhouse Caravan Park. The full moon has risen and the night is Day much cooler.
Day 56 - Sunday 26th May 2013 (Travelled 186 kms)
Today we have reached Katherine and have further travelled to Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk) to camp. The fruit bats are populating a couple of trees nearby (they are so noisy as they squabble, I swear they will send me batty!) and the wallabies are close by, maybe they would like an invitation to come inside the caravan.