Katherine to Kununurra was a commute for us. If you are a keen fisherman or 4 wheel driver there is plenty to do along the way however, we are neither so we just kept driving.
We had a UHF radio installed in our car before we left which has been very handy at times, andat times very funny. The truckies tend to use channel 40 so historically we have avoided this channel because the conversations are not G rated and we don't want Annie to hear the language that is used. However, every time we come up behind a huge road train (which can be up to 50m in length) we turn it onto channel 40 in case they need to tell us anything (like if it's clear to overtake etc). This particular day there was a truck (no trailers) following an oversize road train carrying huge mining buckets. The truckers were chatting occasionally to each other. As we overtook the first trucker jumped on his radio and said 'The passengers got her legs up, look out your window. The passengers got her legs up'. My legs were on the dashboard. Clearly not much to look at between Karatha and Darwin I guess you've got to make the most of whatever might be driving past.
You can't take any fresh fruit, vegies, walnuts, or honey into WA so we had to eat/give away anything we had left in our fridge before we crossed the border.
It was nice to be in WA. After re-stocking the fridge in Kununurra we headed for Lake Argyle.
Lake Argyle turned out to be an absolute gem. We planned to stay 2 nights and ended up staying 5. Lake Argyle is the largest man made water reservoir in Australia. It is designed to supply energy and water to surrounding industry and farmers. The lake is deemed an inland sea due to the sheer size (980 square kilometres) and it is not uncommon to experience a 2m swell in parts of the lake. At normal full supply level the lake could fill Sydney harbour 18 times(10.7 million megalitres of water). That's a lot of water.
The surrounding landscape is beautiful - steep, red, rocky hills plunging into the water. We did some short bushwalks to lookouts and took a cruise on the lake, but mainly just enjoyed to view from the very refreshing (freezing) infinity pool. There is nowhere on the lake to swim, the steep cliffs and hills make it impossible to access the water. If you take a cruise they let you jump off the end of the boat, which is exactly what Mick and Annie did. For Annie the idea of a sunset swim in Lake Argyle was much better than the reality of being in the middle of a lake in 40m deep water - she hoped out pretty quickly and congratulated herself on her ' good swim'!
We again ran into Lochies family at Lake Argyle. It was great to see them all again. Lochie and Annie greeted each other with all the usual shrieks of excitement. The Woods family also surprised us and turned up early to Lake Argyle. It was lovely to see them and we started to get excited about the next few weeks exploring the Kimberley together.
As we were about to drive out of Lake Argyle we had our first puncture. Mick put the spare on and we headed straight for the Kununurra tyre repair shop (an extremely busy place).
With a repaired spare tyre we took off to Purnululu National Park (Bungles). We had heard shocking reports about the road so the Woods decided to leave their trailer behind and use tents for the two nights. We towed the trak shak in so we could all use it as a base camp.
To be honest I wasn't that excited about the Bungles, probably because I hadn't read much about it and all I had heard was that it is a long, horrid horrid road in and there is nowhere to swim.
It was a long drive but not nearly as bad as we had heard and we were blown away when we got there. The landscape was unlike anything I have ever seen. There were orange and black, striped, rock domes as far as the eye could see. It looked like an eerie civilisation that had been constructed by aliens - you almost expected to see little creatures running around this bizarre place.
Unfortunately when we arrived at the campsite we came across some Germans who had a flat tyre so Mick had to spend about 2 hours with them changing the flat - there were some language barriers and poor equipment issues! Unfortunately once they were sorted it was too late to do anything.
The next day we walked into Cathedral Gorge, a stunning natural rock cave/amphitheatre. The walk was hot but stunning and as we entered the gorge it was so remarkable I was almost moved to tears (perhaps I was hormonal). It was amazing and the atmosphere was magnified by the soft strums of guitar music echoing throughout the gorge. We spent about an hour just enjoying the site and playing in the pure white sand surrounding the plunge pool at the base of the cliffs.
That afternoon we walked into Echidna Chasm. A narrow passage between two cliffs that are in excess of 100 m high. The walk follows the passage for about 1 km before you find yourself in a red rock cavern. The passage is 1 person wide with small boulders sitting above your head wedged between the two cliffs... Slightly un-nerving at times. Because it is so narrow it is very dark as sunlight can only get in at midday (ish).
After a spectacular sunset we were all pretty tired and ready for bed. The drive out the next day was long, and rough.
The day in Kununurra was all about shopping for the Gibb. We were planning to be in the wilderness for at least 3 weeks but wanted to be prepared for 4 just in case. We stocked the fridge, freezer, esky, pantry and anything else we could find to store food. We were concerned about the ability of our batteries to maintain the fridge and freezer and hoped that the solar panels were up to the task. Everyone was exhausted after the trip to the Bungles, Charlie, Annie and Gil were all feral. We decided that there was a Kununurra curse and we couldn't wait to leave. At one stage I was carrying a wriggling, screaming, nude Annie across the caravan park extremely aware of all the disproving stares of the grey nomads!
We were all really excited to be starting the Gibb. Our first stop was Home Valley station, a working cattle station owned and operated by the Indigenous Land Corporation. The drive to Home Valley was stunning and the road was fine, even the infamous Pentacost river crossing turned out to be a bit of an anticlimax. The drive meanders through the Cockburn Ranges, a majestic range of red, rugged, ridges where much of the film Australia was filmed.
Unfortunately the first two nights at Home Valley were not that great for me. Some pretty horrid stomach cramps followed by a bout of gastro meant that I was out of action for two days. By the third day I was on my feet again-just - so we spent the day exploring El Questro. We soaked a while in Zedebee Springs, drove to Brancos lookout (which turned out to be a slightly scary 4 wheel drive track), picnicked at Emma Gorge resort and walked into Emma Gorge for a very refreshing (freezing) swim. A lot of people don't like El Questro as it is expensive and seems to cater really well for those paying $2000/night but not so well for those camping. Maybe it was because we didn't stay there, but I really liked it. There are a huge number of walking tracks, swimming holes and 4 wheel drive tracks to explore. We could have easily stayed a few days if I had not been vomiting the previous day.
The next day we packed up and headed for Drysdale station. Again, a working, million acre, cattle station, and the last stop before the Mitchell Falls road. Many people leave vans and trailers here as the road up to the plateau is pretty narrow and can be pretty rough. We decided that our trailers would be fine so we set off the next day. Some of the water crossings were a bit washed out but other than that the road wasn't as bad as we were expecting.
The Mitchell Falls campground was basic and pretty hot! Fortunately, about a 20min walk away was a spectacular waterfall and swimming hole. We spent pretty much the whole day swimming and exploring the waterfall and indigenous rock art sites.
The next day we packed our backpacks and loaded the kids onto our backs for the walk to Mitchell Falls. The walk was pretty easy as bushwalks go but it was pretty hot on the plateau and when you are carrying 15+ kg worth of child on your back it becomes a little harder. We walked slowly and swam at all the swimming holes along the way. The falls themselves were incredible but Annie was far more excited about the chopper flight back to the campsite. The 6 minute flight, although very short, gave us a great view of the river system feeding the falls and the plateau itself.
Annie was absolutely beside herself with excitement about the chopper... until we actually got in. She clung to our hands and sat in expressionless, stunned silence until we got out.
That afternoon we packed up and drove out to King Edward River campground, a gorgeous campground situated right next to the river. The river is safe for swimming so we had a lovely soak that evening as the sun was setting.
The next day we parted ways with the Woods. They wanted to travel up to Kulumburu and we were not really that keen so we headed for Manning Gorge.
The Manning Gorge campsite was pretty basic but we had read there were showers. I was starting to think a shower would be nice. When we got there we discovered that showers were cold with no pressure because there was no electricity - back in the river we went. My hair by now looks and feels a lot like rope you would find on a sailing ship!
The walk into Manning gorge starts with a swim across the river, the campground caretaker provides polystyrene boxes to float your things across and more recently a little row boat. We decided (after a lot of deliberation) to swim the boat across with Annie, myself and our things. The walk in was only about an hour and once we got there we were greeted by a stunning waterfall and swimming hole. We spent almost the entire day swimming, playing, exploring and watching the wildlife. The brilliant thing about Manning gorge is that you swim when you start, swim when you get there and then swim when you get back - perfect for hot weather walking. We found the day so relaxing and enjoyable.
The next day we headed for Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, a property owned and operated by the Australian Wildlife Conservation Foundation. The property is managed purely for conservation purposes to protect habitat for endangered Kimberley wildlife. It is 90 km off the Gibb river road and they will only allow a maximum of 50 people to camp/night. They ask that you radio ahead at the turnoff to check if there is a vacancy - during peak season they are turning people away at 8am. Fortunately, we are travelling very late in the season so we were fine to stay. There are beautiful gorges, swimming holes, walks and kayaking on the property. They also hold talks most nights informing guests of the management practices they employ and the constant research programs being undertaken. We swam in the Fitzroy river (upper reaches so no crocs) and spent a day kayaking and swimming in Dimond Gorge. We were the only ones there so it was pretty special. That night we treated ourselves to dinner at the 'restaurant' YUM.
By this stage of the trip (2weeks in) we were starting to have some problems with our fridge and freezer. The batteries couldn't keep up with the demand from the fridge and the solar panels weren't enough to keep everything going. The fridge had pretty much stopped and the freezer was starting to defrost. We were worried that if we didn't hook into power soon we might kill the batteries and have to spend a fortune on new batteries (and throw out any food we had left). So we decided we could push on to Derby and then explore the western Kimberly by doing day trips from Derby. ..
After a fast pack up we headed off to Bell Gorge. We had a lot of kilometres of rough-ish road to cover so we were in a hurry when we got to Bell Gorge. We almost ran the "walk" into the gorge, had a super fast swim, took a photo and ran back out again. We felt like Japanese tourists. The waterfall at Bell Gorge is impressive and it would have been nice to spend the day exploring a little more.
Off to Derby. About 170km from Derby the car suddenly jolted and slid and felt very very bad. Mick said' I reckon well be changing the tyre', and as I looked out I said, 'no wheel to change the tyre on'! The poor trailer was down on its axle, the wheel had sheared off. w***! Mick took off to find the wheel while I entertained Annie and thought thank god we have the Sat-phone in the glove box. When mick returned with the wheel he said 'I reckon we can fix it with the spare axle'. To be honest in my head I thought he was on drugs, but I didn't say that and only offered words of encouragement. Meanwhile I was thinking RACV are going to have to come get us. Then like angels arriving on a cloud, Shane and Dave arrived... but in a cloud of dust and wearing High Vis. Shane and Dave were 'can do' kind of guys. They worked for Main Roads and said they do this stuff at least once a day, and that this one looked better than many they come across. So out came all the tools from the car and Shane and Dave got to work. We needed another Jack because it was a trailer and it was balancing a little precariously on one jack and a few rocks (unfortunately Shane and dave did not have a jack because it had been pinched). A rental 4 wheel drive drove past and slowed down to see if we were all right and they had a jack. Yay, my OHS concerns were slightly alleviated when the rocks were removed and the 2nd jack was in place. The young driver of the rental said 'you guys look familiar, where are you from'. 'Tassie' I said. 'We're from Tassie too'... Turns out he was at Grammar with me two years below in my sister Sam's class.
All up the repair job took about an hour, but it meant we could keep going to Derby and didn't have to wait for towing which could have taken hours and we would have been there on the side of the road in the dark. So we limped to Derby and arrived at about 7:30 that night. We checked into the only place that had a vacancy and paid a horrendous amount of money for an appalling room, but we were safe and that was all that mattered. The next morning we got up early and got out of Derby as fast as we could. If we were going to have to wait for the trailer to be repaired it was NOT going to be in Derby... Hello Broome.