Adelaide to Kimberley week 8 plus Gibb River Rd Pt 2

Wednesday, Jul 08, 2015 at 10:00

Member - Carolyn & Peter L

Wednesday 8th July

We only had 100km to travel so didn't get up extra early. Another warm night, it actually got too warm to sleep in much past 7, so up we got. Packed up and hitched up, we drive over to the shop/fuel area to top up the water tanks, and had to wait for 3 other rigs to go through first. Such a busy place.

It was 9.15 by the time we left Drysdale River Station, and with an air of anticipation we closed the second gate going into the Homestead and headed north. The first 20km or so were great as they had just been graded.

Then we hit the corrugations, Yep. It was crap! Certainly the worst we have come across so far, and they went on for miles and miles, with only a brief respite now and then. We came across a vehicle pulled over who waved us on. We actually stopped and dropped our pressures some more, we were sitting on 28-29, but dropped them further to 26 and the ride was much better, but still shook the bleep out of the car if your speed dropped below 50, which it had to from time to time for corners and patches of limestone on the road.

All of a sudden Pete yelled - you didn't close the kitchen drawer properly! (which I had). In the side mirror I could see that the whole kitchen slide out drawer had rolled out! We slowed down and stopped to assess the damage. Didn't look like we had lost anything out of the kitchen drawers (which had slid open as we stopped and were now coated in a layer od red dust!) but on closer inspection Pete could see that I HAD closed the drawer properly, but that the latch had broken with the corrugations! What to do??? We came up with the idea of using one of the tie down straps - we currently had two on our blue box on top of the camper, and two for the two extra diesel containers on the back of the kamper. We thought we could get away with 1 strap on the back, did a bit of jiggling around and fitted a strap from the chassis on the other side of the kamper, over and under the kitchen drawer to hold it closed. Fingers crossed it would hold!

Meanwhile we noticed a car and cub camper that had been following us (they had pulled over earlier) had pulled off to the side of the road in a sort of clearing under a tree, and their mates they were travelling with had stopped on the road. We had previously met this group at Mt Elizabeth Station - the ones who backed into the tree.?!! It was the other driver of the pair that was in strife this time. Sharing it round!! Once we had fixed our problem we went back to check out they were OK, just as they were walking up to see if we needed help! They had stopped as a car behind them said he could smell hot brakes, so they stopped earlier and checked - one brake line was OK, the other a bit hard to get to. The pulled over the second time just behind us to let it all cool down for a while ( and let the shockers cool down too!). They offered us another tie down strap but we thought we would be ok. They let us know what UHF channel they were on, and off we set again.

We were at the 65km mark - over half way!

Eventually, 2 1/4 hours after we started, after two stops, we arrived at the turn off for Mitchell Falls!! From here it was another 2km to the turn off for the King Edward Rover campground after first navigating the river crossing. Fortunately it had been a very dry wet season so the river wasn't too bad. Its often closed early in the season, one of the bigger crossings to navigate. The campgrounds used to be a free bushcamp spot, but now the parks and wildlife people have upgraded the area, put in composting toilets and. ow charge $10 pp per night. We paid our fees for 3 days and crawled off to find a suitable spot.

As we were checking out the sites Pete noticed that Trevor and Leslie were already here! They saw us come in and came over as we were unhitching. It turned out they were very unimpressed with Miners Pool, couldn't even see where the swimming pool was, so decided to forfeit their $30 camping fee and keep driving for King Edward River! So they had arrived the day before, and their trip was not uneventful either! They lost turbo power in their Nissen, but Trevor was able to reconnect a hose that had come undone, they also lost a bolt on their kitchen but they managed to retrieve the bold or had a spare. It turned out they had stopped at nearly the same spot we had, deciding whether to turn back or go ahead! In the end because they were just over half way there, ,they decided to keep going. They, like us, were so relieved to finally make it.

Once we had set up, we all went for a swim down in the river. Such a beautiful spot! There are several places you can enter the water, and two or three of them actually have proper stainless steel pool steps - so cultured!!! It meant you had to get in in more of a hurry than I usually do, but the water was lovely - if you kept moving! We were pretty sure there were freshwater crocs, but hopefully no salties!

After our refreshing swim we walked further up the river to a small waterfall. The rocks along the riverbank were very different than other places we had visited. Massive big slabs of black, pink and apricot rock with lots of little round holes that had been worn away, some still with water trapped in them. Some polished so much they looked like they hada coat of semi-gloss laquer on them. The banks of the river were lined with Pandanus and Livistona Palms. It all looked very prehistoric! The sky was quite overcast too (not good for our power supply) which made interesting photos but meant that later on we had to run the car to charge the kamper batteries enough to give the fridge a good run.

Back at camp Trevor went off to talk to 2 families that had gone into Mitchell falls in the morning to see how they went, snd decide if we would still go all the way in or not. It was still another 83km, and everyone so far had said this part of the road was lots worse than the Kalumburu rd. As it turned out, they managed to do 50-60km/hr most if the way. They said there was 30km of bad corrugations first, then the rest had slabs of limestone jutting up into the rad that needed to be negotiated to prevent puncturing a tyre. They took just under 2 hrs to drive in, the same back out. They walked up the falls the paid for a helicopter flight back down.

We talked it over with Trevor and Leslie and we decided to leave at 5am (bugga!). We emptied out most of the food supplies out of the back of our car to lighten it, and took the second spare off of the kamper trailer and put it in the back of the Prado. We were also going to take a change of warm clothes and our pillows and a couple of blankets in case we got caught up too late and needed to sleep at the other campground at the falls for the night. This is where a lot of people benefit from having a tent! We would just have to sleep in the car as best as we could if we needed to.

Early dinner and bed. Carried a bucket of water from the river to do washing up as no tap water at the campsite and we wanted to conserve our water supply. Used the last of our fresh veges - lamb souvlaki with pearl couscous, zucchini and cherry tomatoes. Had to chuck about a quarter of the tomatoes, but thats not bad as they were over 8 days old!

Thursday 9th July

Set the alarm for 4.45, but didnt sleep that well in case I didnt hear it go off! Apparently Leslie was worse, it was going to be her first ride in a helicopter so she was so excited she hardly slept at all!

We drove out of camp just before 5.30am, feeling like we were doing a bunk without paying rent as we tried to creep out quietly without waking anyone. The road didn't seem too bad - yes definitely corrugated, and nearly as bad as the road in, but the lights in the dark helped to show up the corrugations and the limestone slabs of rock we had to go around. The surrounding bushland was like nothing else we had come across before - heavily wooded, with thousands of Livistona Palms - it looked like we were driving into Jurassic Park! There were a few river crossings, nit too deep, but it was so pretty.

We arrived at the campground in just under 2 hours, and went straight to the helipad to book our return helicopter flights. The last one we could get on was 1.30pm so that gave us 5 1/2 hrs - heaps of time. We set off on the walk and almost immediately it was really pretty, and we reached the little Merten Falls. Lots of the Livistona Palms and Pandanus Palms, and a river flowing down around rockpools (with big round holes worn out of them - like a bath!) then onto the falls where it dropped down to the river below.

We continued further on (found out later we had missed the rock art under the falls, bugga!) until we reached Big Merten Falls. You arrive at the top of the falls and it all drops away below you, its a looong way down to the bottom, and very hard to photograph all the way down - unless you are hiking with Trevor that is, who found a spot along the top edge that requires you to climb down and lie flat on a rock - which of course Pete did, bless him! Great shot! Back at the top of the falls you have to make your away across the rapids to get to the other side, past a beautiful lily pool. There were even white water lilies in this one, the largest ones we had seen so far.

Before we knew it we were at the top of the Mitchell Falls. Once again you arrive at the top, with a big rocky plateau with the water from the river running into rapids over the rocks before it disappears over the edge into the first drop of the Falls. There are actually 4 levels to the main falls, but you cant see them from the top, til you walk round the river, cross over at more rapids then walk to the lookout and then even further beyond.

Once we had checked out the top of the Falls, we continued along the bank til we reached the swimming area, where there were two smaller falls leading into the swimming pools. It's just above these falls where we you have to cross over to get to the helipad and lookout. We climbed down to the bottom pool and Leslie and Trevor were in in the blink of an eye! Pete jumped into the top pool and before long and bottom- hitched himself up in the shallow rocky water to get under the falls themselves! It was a strong current and it seemed the only way to get there.Meanwhile Leslie and Trevor were in the bottom pool, trying to get up to the falls which they eventually did, to sit under the cascading water, but Trevor had to keep a hold on Leslie to prevent her from being washed away! Eventually I got in myself, it was so warm (well cold at first but only breathtaking for a few short seconds instead of the usual minutes!). Beautiful and so refreshing! The walk in had been very still and humid with little breeze so the swim was very well received. After our swim we ate our lunch and continued on to cross over the river (had to keep the shoes off for this bit, the rocks were too far apart to jump). Once we got to the other side we were right in front of the helipad. We had seen and heard the choppers going constantly all morning. It was nice to know we didn't have to walk back but would get a ride back in the chopper (they had four going constantly).

We had to find our own way over the rocky ridge to get to the lookout. From here we could only see the top three levels of the Falls, so after stopping for a bit we continued on as we had been told by other visitors, about 10 min further on, them squeezed in between a couple of rocks to get to a good sized rock ledge from which you could see all 4 levels. Wonderful! A bit further on we got some shots of the river as it continued out to sea.

We headed back to the helipad, an hour before our flight to chat with the APT tour groups who were sitting under the shade sails in the helicopter waiting area. We could't be bothered going for another swim then trying to dry off so stayed chatting instead. A lot of the APT group just spent the whole time sitting under the shade sails, only walked to the lookout and that was it til they caught the chopper back down hours later. What a waste!

Finally it was 1.15 and we heard the chopper - it had been quiet for the past hour or so, they must have been having lunch. We had already had our briefing in the morning, so we emptied our pockets, took off our hats and backpacks and gave everything to the pilot except for our cameras - which we were instructed to hold onto tightly - there were no doors on the back of the chopper!! Woo Hoo! Up we went, dipping snd swaying. Leslie had a grin so big you couldn't help but smile too. I had only been in a chopper once before, over Uluru and Kata Juta, and that one had closed doors so this was a real treat. We did two figure 8's of the falls so everyone could get great shots of Mitchell and Big Merten Falls. Before we knew it, we were back at the campground, 6 minutes later and $135 less in the pocket.

We sorted out the cars, repacking the solar panels we had left on the packracks to keep the batteries going. We decided not to detour to Surveyors Pool, the road is even worse and with such a bad wet season the swimming wouldn't be that great anyway, so we headed back out. Surprisingly the trio back to camp was even worse than the trip in. Not sure why but quite a few people we talked to said the same thing, and we all agreed it wasn't just due to tiredness. Anyway, made it back by, but the temperature had dropped to 24 so we felt it was a bit cool for a swim. The sky was really cloudy again, looked like a storm was going to break, just like the build-up, although the camp manager assured us no rain was forecast.

Once back in camp we replaced the car with all the food and shifted the extra spare back to the kamper, and did a bit of hand washing. Dinner was pasta and vegetables in coconut milk and tomato pesto, and another early night!

Friday 10th July

Tried to have a sleep-in but it was too warm. Even though it dropped to 24 when we got back the night before, I don't think it dropped much more, and we just slept with a sheet covering us. By 7am it was more comfortable outside of the kamper.

We had a leisurely breakfast and sat about reading and blogging. Once we got a bit of power charged in the kamper batteries I downloaded some more pictures off the camera and Trevor came over for a chat and coffee. Leslie was wiped out after the day before and had gone back to bed and slept til 12!

We dragged ourselves up to check out the "cultural art sites" aka Aboriginal rock art about 5km west back on the Mitchell Falls Road. There was a series of rock formations out in the middle of the bush, with tracks meandering around them. There is a book - Aboriginal Paintings at Munurru - which describes the paintings and explains. the background to them, what period of history they come from. At Mitchell Falls there was also some information on rock art of Ngauwudu (Mitchell Plateau) that explains the different time frames of the rock art.

The earliest paintings are irregular infill paintings of plants, animals and humans, and these are thought to be 30-40,000 years old. The Gwion or Bradshaw art is thought to be at least 17,000 years, depicting humans in ceremonial garb. Originally painted red, these often look black now against the rock. These are my favourite, and I like to believe there is an African influence. The stick figures often have tasselated adornments. Next comes the clawed hand paintings of humans and animals, thought to be less than 7,000 years old. The most recent of the paintings are the Wandjina paintings, less than 1,000 years old, depicting deities with head dress, halos, no mouth and a large nose. These really look like the aliens come to visit. Very spooky!

It was really easy to imagine the rocks as a meeting place, camp fires burning and women chattering in the distance, with the men singing as they painted. Didgeridoo in the background, in the distance you could see groups of families walking through the open bushland, recently burnt and now with the lush green ground covering of new grass dotted over the blackened earth. Well, I could imagine it, Pete thought I was getting a bit carried away! But the traditional owners do ask you to treat the sites with respect, stop and think about where you are. Which I did. To me it was very special. I was amazed at the condition of some of the paintings, others had been touched up (which is a normal traditional practice I am told) and others painted over or faded away.

Back at camp we quickly changed into our cozzies and headed off for a swim in the King Edward River - i'm getting good at this, jumped straight in this time without taking half. an hour to walk in! The water wasn't nearly so cold either. Lovely!

Once we cooled down we walked back to camp- checking the river edge for where Pete thinks he may have misplaced his glasses the night before when collecting water in the bucket, but there was still no sign of them. We left details with the camp host in case someone else found them. Thank goodness he had his old spare pair with him. I put on a corned silverside for dinner. Eating in style tonight!

Pete was just about to do the washing up after dinner - he had put the kettle on - when Leslie and Trevor materialised out of the darkness with their chairs and wine. They were staying another night so we may not catch up with them again. We had a lovely chat as usual, discussing the large group of seven cars that had arrived in the campground at 7.30, trying to find camp spots in the dark. Apparently had had two breakdowns, one car had to be towed back to Drysdale for repairs. We swapped contact details with Leslie and Trevor, and hoped we would catch up further down the track.

Saturday 11th July

Up at 7, we were packed and ready to go by 9, dropping in to see Leslie and Trevor on the way. We were a bit reluctant to leave, with the spectre of the bad road conditions ahead of us, wondering what further damage might happen. We had already agreed that we would stop every 30-45 min to let the shockers cool down and try and prevent any damage there.

On the way out from the camp ground stopped at the Wandjina cultural art site, 2km toward the Kalumburu rd. Once again there were some amazing examples of Wandjina art, and tasselated figures of the Gwion/Bradshaw style plus some earlier irregular infill paintings. Definitely worth the stop.

Next it was the Edward River Crossing, quite wide but not too deep, beautiful river on either side then we reached the turnoff for Kalumburu in one direction, and Drysdale then the Gibb River Rd in the other direction. We were surprised on the way back at the number and length if the good stretches, the really bad stretches were still there, but didn't seem quite so frequent. Everything seemed to hold together pretty well (tie down strap now keeping the kitchen drawer closed). We had a 15 min break after 40 minutes just for a cool down, but didn't need a second as the grader had been continuing to progress northwards, and now half of the 100km stretch of road had been graded. Yay! We passed a vehicle that had gone ff the road after hitting something head on - quite a mess but no-one still in the car.

We arrived at Drysdale and got rid of our rubbish at their tip (most of the national, parks ask you to take your rubbish with you). Then back in through the two gates to Drysdale to refuel and enjoy another Kimberley Burger for lunch! We had the UHF on channel 16 in case we came across Deb and Ron and the Barossa Group who we thought may have been heading to the King Edward River today. We didn't see them on the road but believe it or not we heard Gary and Estelle and Campbell and Elizabeth talking just as they came in through the gates behind us!! we caught up and had lunch together, they had only just returned from the Munja track, to arrive at Drysdale and find Deb and Ron had decided to break away and head off to Kununurra - they had only missed them by a few hours. The two coupled were continuing on north to camp at King Edward River, drive in to the falls and also to drive further north to Kalumburu. Interestingly they said the Munja track was no worde than the 4 WD track to Wunumurra Gorge from Elizabeth Station that we had done, but a lot more of it! We bid them farewell with the hope we might catch up in SA in the future.

Once we were back on the main Gibb River Rd the conditions deteriorated, with more corrugations (not as bad as the Kalumburu Rd!) but blue gravel road with really large sharp loose rocks. We stopped to check on three different vehicles who had all stopped for flat tyres.

We arrived at Ellenbrae Station, just 5km off the GRR, at 3.30 With the intention to stop for the night rather than push on to Home Valley, and of course to sample their infamous tea and scones! Well the tea was very average but the scones were delicious once we eventually got them - it was a bit crazy when we arrived with several groups rocking up for camping sites or scones, and the owner took our money but forgot to bring out the scones! 40 min later when I saw a group being served who arrived after us, I went back to enquire and she was very apologetic but she had forgotten us! We just wanted to get the kamper set up before it got dark.

The campground was 500m back toward the GRR. It was very dusty (par for the course) and had one toilet and shower each for males and females. The showers were heated by a donkey heater - put the wood in and it would heat up the water as it passed through the pipes. We thought that sounded unique and rustic. We were wrong. Well this was one time that Wikicamps failed us miserably, all the positive comments I don't know what drugs they were on. The campsite wasn't pretty with any views, just random spots on a dusty rack or a few like we found mowed out of the long grass. The toilet. Well, for days Pete has been bemoaning all the "fancy" hybrid eco toilets that are a cross between a drop toilet and a flush loo, but even he had to agree these drop toilets were beyond anything we had seen. Firstly there wasn't much of a drop, just a huge mound of waste which you are kindly asked to add a cup of lime to when you add to it. The seat or throne was set back over the hole with a cut piece of checkerplate on the ground covering up the front of the hole where it was dug too wide, and it tipped a little when you had to stand on it to seat yourself - great!!! Then the door was a piece of shadecloth with eyelets on the top threaded over a piece of wire that you tried to stretch over the door opening (facing directly out to the camp) oh joy! I guess its a bush loo for me tonight, you couldn't pay me to put my life in my hands and visit that thing in the dark!!! I'd rather take on the sharp spiky spinifex and creepy crawlies! Oh, and the donkey heater - the last of the wood was being burnt as we arrived in camp. Guess its a bird bath for us again in the morning!

Sunday 12th July

Can I just say that kids should be seen and not heard. At least at 6am in the morning!!! what sort of parents let their kids go off in the campsite at 6am wacking sticks against all the trees and bushes???? Well they actually did it the night before too, but 6am????? the youngest was about only 3 or 4, then Mr wouldn't-shut-up maybe 6 and older brother about 8. If it was a national park I would have spoken to the parents, the damage they were doing to the vegetation was not good, let alone the noise. Just sayin...........

Headed for Home Valley Station, big slick resort, only 100km down the track. Came across another abandoned camper trailer, this one with a broken axle. Just before we got to Home Valley we stopped at the Cockburn Ranges Lookout where there is supposed to be Telstra reception. We eventually managed to get enough on my laptop to check the bank balance - the credit card isn't overdrawn again fortunately! We gave up in the end and and just before we derive iff we saw our families with the delightful boys pull in to the lookout. Bugga! We had hoped they were going the other way. If we were really lucky they wouldn't stop at Hime Valley like us, but continue on to El Questro. Fingers crossed!

The entrance to HomeValley is very grand, with a huge laser-cut sign with Boab Tree and the Station logo displayed. There is another as you come down to the main gate, with beautiful Boabs planted on either side and in the middle if the double gate entrance. There is a swimming pool as well as Dusty's Bar and Grill, a gorgeous open-sided restuarant that has a bar and live music each night. We have booked for dinner there in a couple of night's time.

Pete couldn't get a powered site, ,which was a gift really when we checked them out later. They are grassed which is great but all very close together, and there is so much dust just from people driving in and out ( much worse when they don't slow down). All the unpowered sites at the Homestead were close to the road and really packed in tight, plus lots of kids, so we paid for the river camping. Just 5km from the main homestead, the camp ground is on the banks of the Pentecost River - one of the most well known and majestic rivers in the Kimberley. They now have ensuite toilets and showers with solar hot water, so the ablutions block was as good and big as the Homestead - with less people to share it with! There is still lots of dust, but not the volume of traffic. The only other downside is you can't swim in the river, there are a few resident salt water crocodiles!! We saw one sunning on the bank today, just hope it stays on the other side of the river!!!

We drive back to the Homestead after setting up camp and having lunch, to do the washing. Fou rwashing Machines ( much better than Drysdale's two), but still a wait of 45 min to get a machine. Pete made some smart comment about all the women hanging round the laundry - they should be out sight seeing not stuck round the laundry. You think???? Life on the road isn't easy, and after a week of handwashing you just sit and wait your turn. Another of the people doing laundry had done BOTH shockers on their Kimberley Kamper trailer coming back from Mitchell Falls, we were so lucky not to suffer the same fate.

Once I got the washing started, we headed back over to Dusty's Bar and Grill and bought some internet time. We can continue to log on during the ext 2 weeks up at the restuarant, but it will also work at El Questro, where we plan to visit over the next couple of days. We decided to stay here instead and just do day trips there, under 100km away, as their campground is even more packed Nd a lot more expensive.

Back at camp it was dark, quickly set up the weber and had pizza for dinner. Looking forward to the sunrise and sunset tomorrow, we could see the Cockburn Ranges from the main camp with the sun setting on them, tomorrow night I will get photos! Our camp spot on the river has uninterrupted views of the Range!
Take me back to my home
To the spirit of the land that calls me
Colours and textures, light and birdsong
There I can breathe, and restore my soul
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