The Kimberley - A hike to Mitchell Falls (and a heliflight out)

Saturday, Jul 31, 2010 at 19:00


Saturday 31st July, 2010
Dunmarri Campground,
King Edward River
The Kimberley WA

We arose to a warm and humid morning with the noisy neighbours at it again first thing. We had decided to walk in and then take the scenic helicopter flight back to the campground. In the time prior to the air services office opening, Scott and I pulled out the other spacer and then re-seated the spring collator that had fallen to the side. Then it was over at the heliport at 07:00 to book our “mud crab” flight. We opted for a 12:15p.m. pick-up at the helipad site above the falls. Returning to camp after our weight in, we finished packing away the camp and then loaded plenty of water into the daypacks and departed on our hike at exactly 9.00 a.m. crossing the Little Merton River and headed out following the poles. I think the rush hour was at about 08:00 with all others departing or flying in early meaning we had the track more or less to ourselves. It was getting hot though, damn hot. We wandered the top of Little Merton falls before seeking the cool, shadows of the falls overhang. The cavern underneath the falls was a magnificent spot to cool down under the cascading water while enjoying the ferny glade and the attendant indigenous art. It’s also fascinating to move from the box woodlands above the falls into a pocket of lush rainforest that exists around the lower levels of the falls. Despite keeping an eye out for the distinctive Cave dwelling Frog, we didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of one.

Heading off into the heat, we again stopped by the Merton after crossing the escarpment like plain to cool, drink and have a square of chocolate. Soon enough I recognised the rocky expanse that heralded the “swimmers” art site so I dragged the crew off piste to the refreshing pool and up onto the boulder to enjoy the Bradshaw’s and infill paintings. Magic art and unlike anything else we’d seen. They are very reminiscent of the Tunisian cave paintings of antiquity (think of the film “The English patient” of the late ‘90’s).

The Mitchell River, flowing northwards from the plateau, drains into Walmsley Bay and Admiralty Gulf. On its journey the river carves gorges and waterfalls into the underlying sandstone, with none being more spectacular than those along the edges of the Mitchell Plateau.Merton and Mitchell falls are the jewels in the crown of this spectacular region. Standing on the edge of the precipitous drop into the canyo below Merton Falls, the sheer spectacular nature of this whole area becomes apparent. . It was great to have such a significant flow of water tumbling over the falls. All the falls in the region are seasonal and usually by this time of the year, there is nothing more than a trickle or nought for that matter.

The roar of tonnes of water cascading over the four tiers of Mitchell falls heralds your arrival at one of the Kimberley’s most spectacular sites. From it’s upper reaches, the Mitchell river flows over a series of four rocky terraces dropping 80 metres to magnificent pool at the base of the last tier. It is a majestic sight and one we spent a few restful minutes contemplating from the rim around the topmost tier of the falls. The black basalt throws back some heat so we decided to cross the river above the falls and take a cooling dip on the large pool a hundred metres back from the lip of then falls. It was greatly refreshing and greatly needed and we paddled for nearly half an hour before emerging and heading around the creek to the north for a front on view of the falls. Reversing our route we hiked back to the baking rocks of the helicopter landing area. bleep those rocks reflect the heat. It was cracking 40C plus out there so we were thankful our bell jet ranger and pilot Tom arrived in a timely fashion. Ushered into the 7 seat version (including pilot), I took the back facing seat while short stop got the front and Scott and Gaby the two rear- forward facing seats. Our pilot Tom was a friendly chap who kept everyone at ease with an informative narrative. This was probably a good thing as it was Vik’s first ever helicopter flight.

After lifting, we circled above the falls momentarily before heading south down the Mitchell to the lower falls and then on towards the ocean where we found the clear line in the river delineating the murky tidal waters of the Indian ocean and the clear fresh water spilling from the plateau. After that we tried to spot the predatory dark shapes of crocs in the milky water before heading up the west arm gorge to the upper Mitchell and back to the main falls where we figure 8’d many a time and headed over the escapement to the campground. 32 minutes in all. A great flight and even better than my amazing flight of four years ago. During our conversations it transpired that young Tom had been trained by our Drysdale pilot, Butch.

Arriving back at camp, it was stinking hot, the thermometer showing 37C in the shade. We finished the pack and headed off just to get the air con going. The track back seemed a lot rougher than on the way in but we managed to make our way back to KE campground and the quads. Stopping at one place to load wood, I found that the shampoo container in my toilet bag had lost its lid with a resulting mess throughout the drivers side of the rear pod. Arriving at the King Edward campground, it was still blazingly hot so after camp set up, a swim was in order. Just as we were heading down to the creek, we were surprised by the arrival of Harm and Ann. They’d spent the night at Mitchell, “THE” Mitchell falls sleeping on bubble wrap under a mozzie net and being annoyed by a pesky possum. What a great adventure. Just in time for a swim we all piled over to the waterhole and falls for a refreshing dip. It was a lot of fun climbing into the narrow space behind the cascades of water. Dinner was a co-operative risotto with everyone contributing to the pot. Not a bad feed really! A few wines and a few laughs and off to bed to prepare for wanjana hunting tomorrow.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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