Thursday, September 15, 2011

Gibb River Road – Part Two – Mitchell Plateau

Many people choose not to travel along the Gibb River Road for various reasons - corrugations, remoteness, water levels and more. The Pentecost River is a notorious water crossing, so we approached it with some trepidation.
Gibb River Road
As we approached the crossing, another vehicle came the opposite direction and roared through the crossing as fast as he could manage. His bouncing vehicle demonstrated how rocky the bottom was, and showed us the deeper hole at the near end. The water was only running at about 40cm deep, so we just trawled through slowly and with little difficulty.
The next point on the road is Home Valley Station, which we had decided to leave for next time, but just after the station turn off, we drove up a hill, and stopped to view the Cockburn Ranges from the lookout. Suddenly our phones went off, receiving SMS messages. We had heard about this spot, so took the opportunity to check in with the family, and taunt some friends with a photo text message.
Then it was drive, and drive, and drive, west until we reached the Kalumburu Road turnoff, where we turned right and headed for a refuel stop at Drysdale River station. The Kalumburu Road was closed due to wet season damage until about 3 months ago, but had become very corrugated since re-opening. The drive was very rough with deep corrugations, rocks, washouts and creek crossings.That afternoon we managed to make it to the King Edward River to set up camp. The campsite only had two other campers, and is quite large, so we had plenty of room. The kids went off to explore the river and rocks while Karen and I set up camp.
The following morning we undertook the rough track to Mitchell Falls. It’s 76km long and took two hours to complete. The road condition gradually became worse, the further along it we travelled. Once we found the carpark, we followed the 4.2km walking trail to the top of the falls. Along the way, we stopped at Little Mertens Falls and admired the aboriginal rock art on the underslung cliff faces. There was another rock art site a bit further along, and then we reached the top of Big Mertens Falls. The waterfall was only flowing slowly off the edge, but the closer we approached it, the more we began to realise how high and sheer the cliff face is. It quite literally drops over 100 metres straight down from where the walking track emerges.
The top of Mitchell Falls was only 500m further on, so we proceeded quickly. We crossed the Mitchell River and walked a bit further to the Mitchell Falls lookout. If you thought Big Mertens Falls was a bit scary, you would be amazed at the Mitchell Falls Lookout. Standing on a rock ledge overlooking the falls, with another sheer drop to the water below, a lot higher than you can be comfortable on. If you did manage to fall off and survive the impact on the water, you would then have to deal with the salt water crocs that inhabit the pool below.
All that aside, the view of the waterfall is spectacular!
We walked back to the top of the falls, and got changed ready for a dip. The river-side was almost deserted, save for some German tourists that we met in the King Edward River campsite this morning. Everyone was about half dressed (and half naked) when the pair appeared, climbing over the rocks towards us. “Zee Germans are coming, zee Germans are coming” was Daniel’s warning sign. It is very difficult to hurriedly get dressed whilst also falling about laughing, so the warning was not fully appreciated.
“Zee Germans are coming, zee Germans are coming” became the catch cry for the trip, as there were European tourists all along the journey.
We had a refreshing swim, taking care not to go too close to the edge, devoured our lunch, and then redressed for the return walk. By the time we reached Little Mertens Falls, we were all so hot, that another swim was required to cool down. Rosa was particularly suffering, and complained of feeling nauseous. She was also reluctant to enter the chilling water, but eventually succumbed to cool down.
P9140588We drove the last part of the trip in the dark, so it was a very long day with many happy memories. Well worth the journey.
As we left the campground we followed the advice of some fellow travellers, and found the aboriginal rock art site famous for its “Bradshaw” paintings beside the King Edward River. A tour group came through at the same time, so we managed to obtain a guided tour of the site.
Although we had stayed two nights on Mitchell Plateau, there is a lot more to see in this neck of the woods, so a longer visit would be feasible. However the memory of enduring that road again dulls the thought a little…
Another fuel stop at Drysdale River station, and we are on our way again. Next stop, Manning Gorge to see what surprised it has in store for us.

No comments: