Roads and Tracks We Have Traveled (Part Five Concluding the Kimberley)

Friday, Apr 20, 2012 at 05:28

Member - Michael John T (VIC)

Kalumburu is about 270 klms north of the Gibb River Road and although our party turned south from King Edward River in 2008, Brenda and I had previously visited here in 2002 ( for a week) and again in 2004 when we stayed for just on 3 weeks. It is a place where you really need to spend some time and ideally enjoy fishing and with access to a boat, so rushing up there for an overnight stop was in reality not practical. So initially I will be referring back to those earlier visits.
Getting there in 2002 was really no hassle just a further 100+klms on a fairly rough road pulling our camper trailer and for some surety we were accompanied by an enjoyable young couple Brian and Amanda. We had first met them briefly at Keep River NP and again at King Edward River where we agreed to travel together. On arrival at Kalumburu we paid for and collected our permit after a wait of a couple of hours, nothing much happens between mid day and 2 pm. Brian was aware of the two camping spots out of town and we headed out to the first, McGowans Beach only to find it abandoned and run down despite its great outlook. Further up the road and a few klms down a sandy track we arrived at Honey Moon Bay (now 25klms from the Community). Not quite as the name suggested but still a lovely place. We managed to find our way down onto the beach and set up our camps in deep sand and with no natural shade, the only close Boab was already occupied. We were there for a week and had a fantastic time with early morning fishing trips on the ‘mill pond’ sea, some limited swimming on the beach and watching the young locals (Les, the owners, grand children) practice their technique at catching a turtle (the one they had hog tied with a rope and was continuously retrieved from the front of the beached boat) and did I mention collecting and eating the fresh oysters from the nearby rocks.

The camping area was basic, an unfinished unisex ablutions block with 2 toilets and 2 cold showers, a single water tap with brown bore water ( the small attached filter did little) and an unreliable generator with just 2 power outlets. Little had changed 2 years later and quite honestly we were glad that it hadn’t, the place and its people had charm and made it a place to fondly remember. It remains one of our favourite places still and one that we will return to before long for an extended stay. As I said you do need to have a boat and enjoy the fishing experience, there are good catches to be had and plenty of BIG ones that get away – whatever they are! On both occasions we took our 3 1/2 meter inflatable with a 8 hp motor (not big enough) and used it extensively in 2002 but in 2004 there was a resident croc who had taken a liking to anything plastic or rubber and all bait nets etc… over night he tended to demolish what he could, Les advised us not to launch the boat, sound advice when he showed us the inflatable Zodiac on the beach completely in tatters.
On our second visit we were at Manning Gorge when word filtered through that the previously closed Kalumburu Road was now open – off we went. The road was OK and was being graded on the northern section, only one reasonably large mud puddle which caused us little excitement, but was to become a serious problem a few days later. Apparently the grader and then the support truck became bogged followed by several other vehicles not long after we passed it. More about it later. This time we stayed up in the camping area and enjoyed the cold showers as the weather became more and more oppressive, day and night. As clouds built up and then disappeared Les informed us the wet was still with us and this was early June. Sure enough as we were out fishing with a friend on the Friday of the first week we were enveloped in rain the start of 5 inches (125mls) in 2 days. Water everywhere, even the sandy track in was flooded. The canvass on the camper over night was covered in mould. It eased on Sunday and two off road vans left (we heard later they took 3 days to cover the first 70 klms). The Carson River which you cross south of the Community reached 2 meters blocking the road. Two other couples coming in were stranded at the river and between the now huge ‘9 mile bog hole’ (as it became known) for three days. The photos that follow were taken by one of those couples. On the Monday and Tuesday there was another 2 inches. As a consequence we stayed for another two weeks, fished most days and shared our catches with the camp as did every one. Because the barge could not land even the Community store was short on staples. By the time we left we were sure that fish would not be on the agenda for a long while.

The area offers plenty to see and do. The Mission in the Community itself has a pleasant camping area as well as a garage and shop both run by volunteers. There are resident Nuns (in 2004 one over 80 years old and still riding a quad bike- wonderful lady) and Benedictine Monks. In 2002 we were priviledged to visit the museum run by Father Anscar (who had been there since 1982) who gave an interesting history and insight to the area. How the first Mission then known as Drysdale River Mission was settled by the Order in 1905 about 20klms away at Pago. It moved into the Community in 1937 close to permanent water (King Edward River) and suffered extensive damage with the superior of the Mission, Father Thomas being killed along with 5 aboriginals when attacked by 25 Japanese bombers in September 1943. He gave an insight to the changing role of the Mission in today’s environment. In 1951 the Community was renamed Kalumburu. All very interesting but what followed was just enthralling. Within the two small rooms Father Anscar had literally 1000’s of collected items local and from all over the world, some small, others large, intricate and simple and each item with a particular story. At the end he produced a large folder full of photos of art sites most of which he claimed to have been the only white person to have viewed them. I believe the museum has been rebuilt and is still open, but most of its value lay in the stories and presentation of that elderly and worldly missionary Father Anscar.
Back then the Community had a strong artist group and we were lucky enough to have been able to purchase a cherished piece. Painted by a 17 year old local boy it represents for us a mixture of Wadjina (the Rain God) and Bradshaw/Gwion figures (the Warriors). It hangs in our lounge room today.
You are able to drive out to Pago and if lucky, as we were, locate the 6 original water wells that were hand dug and neatly lined with stone by the first Benedictine Monks. Mind you they were well concealed by the almost shoulder high dry grass. At the end of the Community airstrip there are a couple of old plane wrecks to be found in the bush. The strip was used during the war as a staging post until moved to the nearby Truscott Airfield. A little further out among the sandstone giants there are some basic aboriginal art works to be found.
Perhaps one of the most enjoyable experiences we had there was a trip out to Govenor Island about 45 minutes out from the Bay in friend Gary’s small tinnie. This was just a magic place – pristine with school after school of fish, small black tipped sharks and turtles abounding in the clear water. Unfortunately we forgot our bait and try as we could to catch even a ‘tiddler’ for bait nothing would bite. We abandoned the effort and just took in the scenery, beaching ourselves and wandered this lovely environment. We circumnavigated the island in the boat marveling at yet another beach and drifted in awe under the tall neatly stacked rock walls – I swear that someone had a hand in building these. We returned on a mill pond sea just on the change of tide, picked up our bait and back out to our favourite fishing spot just south of the Eagle Nest Point (A large sea eagle nest on the point of the headland) and caught our share of blue bone, stripes, bream, rock cod and mangrove jacks before returning home. To top the day off Les’s daughter dropped off several oysters for us to cook on the fire (Kilpatrick style). Unfortunately these were the days prior to digital cameras, although I do have quite a bit of old video.

We left the Community, Les and his family and his camping ground (he was very proud of what he offered and was indeed an interesting character with very firm ideas about his grandchildren’s future educational opportunities). The 9 mile bog was now manageable although about 100 meters wide stretching either side of the track (unbelievable). We were determined to return here, just a magical place. I hope that the eagles nest is still in place but with the event of a couple of cyclones in the last few years, I doubt it. The Community had its problems but I believe that quite a sum of money was to be spent providing improved services to this quite remote town. For us this was indeed one of those roads and tracks well worth traveling.
Picking up again on our 2008 travels, we left King Edward River and drove to Drysdale Station on the recently graded road (see last blog) stopping off again for another delicious lunch. From there we made for the Gibb River crossing and eventually found a quiet camping spot, the place was well utilized. From here we made our way down the Gibb River Road meeting several sections or road improvement works and called into Ellenbrae Station for a cuppa with scones, jam and cream. Photos on the wall highlighted the inevitable consequences of over loaded vehicles and speed on this road. It is a basic set up, very pleasant and as we found out on our earlier trip has an acceptable bush camping ground with interesting and inventive facilities.

Again on our first trip up here we stopped off at Home Valley for lunch, a pie and chips, parking in front of the aging buildings and under the two very large Boab trees. So it was difficult to comprehend the change that had occurred to the Station. Now owned by the Aboriginal Corporation and now over one million acres in size and running 3500 head of cattle, over $20 million had been spent to bring it up to resort status. The interesting point is it is run in partnership with TAFE training aboriginal personnel in station work, horse ventures and tourism. They had an excellent bar and dining facilities, green and watered grass to camp on and was only in it’s second week of operation when we arrived. The two Boabs had been kept. We were able to have some welding done on one of the vehicles and enjoyed a fairly taxing walk along the low gorge to Bilgoola waterhole and back across the dry and open plateau.

Prior to reaching Home Valley we had crossed the Durack River and gazed at the wonderful views of those magnificent Cockburn escarpments and the snaking Pentecost River. Now it was time to cross the Pentecost and turn off for the 16 klm drive into El Questro. Now this is a busy place, every traveler stops here and you pay top dollar to camp along with an extra fee (environmental) per person. The camping facilities are quite ok but not special and as I said it is crowded by the end of the day. The advantage however is that it does have several very appealing gorges, so a stay of 2 or 3 days is not unreasonable. They have a boat ride down the interesting and pretty Chamberlain Gorge to an art site as well as an excellent helicopter 20 minute buzz over the property, actually a great way to see the many features of the place, including Champagne Springs and Explosion Gorge, Emerald Pools, Pentecost River and Falls, over the escarpments and of course a closer up view of the Resort situated on the cliff overlooking the river and available at $2000 per night pp (2 nights Min stay). Brenda, Al and Den thoroughly enjoyed the experience.


Just about all visitors take the short walk from the car park to Zebadee Hot Springs, where you are able to sit and relax in the warm running creek. A more adventurous experience is to drive across the rocky Chamberlain causeway and then up the quite steep ascent to Branco’s lookout. Great views and when we did it just on dusk we were able to observe the runaway burn off that eventually caused the evacuation of the private river camp sites. Quite a spectacle however.

On the first afternoon of our 3 night stay we headed out to Moonshine Gorge, a lovely and quite picturesque place especially with the late afternoon sun. It’s quite open with a scramble up the Moonshine Creek and about half way through (you can do a circular walk) there is a good deep swimming hole – cold though at that time in the afternoon. The colours as we left were just stunning. The drive back was dusty and required some 4wd negotiating the 5 water crossings.

The beautiful El Questro Gorge, I think is one of the prettiest in the Kimberlies, not all that far from the camp, it is a stunning walk up the narrow creek bed between tall cliffs and among sub tropical vegetation. Half way pool lies below a huge boulder that literally blocks the gorge and involves a difficult climb (for oldies) to get past and continue the now rough walk to the end of the gorge. Although we didn’t attempt that section (Al and Den did) we did take advantage of a refreshing dip in the pool below the rock.

The next day despite it being quite hot we were determined to walk the Amalia Gorge, a wide open affair with some parts requiring a squeeze along narrow ledges ( not really recommended for small children, but 5 or 6 year old + would have a ball). The small plunge pool at the end had green algae across the bottom but provided you kept your feet up it was definitely (for me anyway) worth a swim. Back tracking we again enjoyed the small rocky pools and took another refreshing dip in a lovely pool beside overhanging rocks at about the half way point. Most of our energy spent by this time we all retired to the bar for happy hour (or two).

The last of the gorges on the Gibb River Road is El Questro’s show piece – Emma Gorge with its accompanying resort facilities. Quite a hike in along a rough and at times rocky approach, you soon come face to face with this beautiful plunge pool and the finely cascading, virtually misty water fall. Amid the clinging ferns on the walls all the colours of the rainbow appear as you move around the gravelly beach. You are able to swim the short distance beneath the spray and contemplate the fact that you have a warm walk back to the car park. Not to worry though the facilities provide for a cool drink beside the luscious vegetation. What a nice place for a light luncheon and bottle of cool cider.

So all that was required was the 60 odd klm drive into Kununurra to end the Kimberly experience. Actually that’s not so, this town has plenty to offer - tours, zebra rock, Kelly’s Knob at sunset and of course it’s the centre for the Ord River agriculture development. As well there are opportunities to reach Wyndham, take the back road along the Lower Ord River to Parrys Farm bird campground (terrific place to stay) and Marlgu swamp which teams with bird life. Whilst at Wyndham drive up the Five Rivers Lookout for a spectacular view of the Ord, Durack, Forest, King and Pentecost Rivers entering the Cambridge Gulf. The King River Road (which can be navigated back to the Gibb Road) is also worth a drive for more great views of the Cockburn Range, it also leads out to Diggers Rest a horse riding camp. This area features in the film “Australia”. An interesting exit from Parrys back to town is via the Old Halls Creek Track, a partly cobble stoned relic of the 1880s gold era.


There is plenty to do in this area and lots to see in the Kimberley. From Broome to Kununurru we took just over 4 weeks, visited 17 gorges and numerous waterholes and managed a swim in many of them, unfortunately we still had a long trip south and much more to see so it had to end, we all wished we could have stayed longer.

PS. A friend of mine traveled the Gibb River Road in just 5 days…. Been there, done that.!!.
A few more photos.


Next in the series 'Sydney the long way'
UPDATE.
Its nearly two years since I wrote this blog and was reminded of it this morning. A young local tradesman arrived at our place and as he walked in the front door and into the lounge room he said "Ah Kalumburu" as he looked at the painting (see above) hanging on the wall. A few years ago he and his wife had spent two years in the Kimberley Region where he worked at driving an ambulance out of Derby. He obviously had traveled widely in the region.
Mike March 28th 2014.
We retired to travell
It's time to go again...
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