Back in September, we shared the first leg of our Kimberley adventure from 2011, trekking north along the Gibb River Road. If you missed it, you can catch up on our travels here. In this issue, our adventure continues, as we check out Mt Elizabeth Station, skirt around the Cockburn Ranges, and take refuge at El Questro Station’s private campsites.
At our time of travel, the road closures to Kalumburu on the remote northern coast and the Mitchell Falls in the Mitchell River National Park were key disappointments. The road to Kalumburu is notoriously bad, but relatively good compared to the 85km trek (from the Kalumburu Road) into Mitchell Falls which is rough and slow. The reward is the spectacular waterfalls accessed by a rather demanding 6km return hike. Alternatively, a helicopter can provide a return taxi service in addition to the birds-eye view of the surrounding landscape.
There are a range of cattle stations, nature reserves and free camps available along the Gibb. Mt Barnett Gorge is one such free camp located between Mt Barnett Roadhouse and Mt Elizabeth Station. Another free camp is on the eastern side of the Pentecost River.
Cattle stations offering camping include Home Valley Station, Ellenbrae, Mt Elizabeth and El Questro. To us, El Questro was easily the pick of the bunch with amazing riverside private camps, challenging four-wheel drive tracks and a variety of walks and welcoming swimming holes. Detailed activity sheets are provided for all the walks and drives, to safely guide you to your destination and highlight the major points of interest along the way.
Mt Elizabeth was also a highlight, being further off the track than the others. It boasted a shaded campground; a challenging rocky, four-wheel drive trail to the falls; aboriginal art; hot showers and toilets; and peacocks, wallabies and ‘roos around camp.
Back on the Gibb, fording the Durack and Pentecost Rivers was one of the many highlights of the Gibb adventure. Both were looking a little worse for wear following the wet season, which cut a wide swathe across the landscape hundreds of metres wider than the normal flow of the river.
The Cockburn Ranges mark an impressive backdrop to the Pentecost River Crossing in the eastern Kimberley. The eastern side of the river marks the start of the Karunjie Track, which skirts around the base of the ranges. It provides endless vantage points to view the massive orange cliffs.
The Karunjie Track can be accessed from either end, although with the sun dropping to the west, the junction of the Gibb River Road and the Pentecost River provides the money shot, yielding an impressive view of the radiating red cliffs of the ranges in the late afternoon sun.
The track initially passes through private farmland traversing rutted pastures, salt marshes and black soil tidal flats. Diverting off the track and camping is prohibited, with signs warning that the area is regularly patrolled, so no free camping along this stretch.
In parts, crusty black soil breaks up the spinifex, adding further variety to the surrounding landscape. Black soil can quickly turn to quicksand with any moisture, so stick to the wheel tracks to avoid any lengthy delays.
Diggers Rest station is one of few places to camp, located about half-way along the track. The station is popular for fishing and horse riding. Not far beyond Diggers Rest, the track returns to unsealed road status; a little bumpy but otherwise easy travelling. It passes through the King River Reserve, a 910 hectare parcel, setup to protect the saltwater crocodile breeding habitat. The area is managed by the Department of Environment and Conservation and includes barriers to protect wandering stock from coming into contact with the crocs.
An aboriginal site shows evidence of earlier habitation with rock paintings on the walls. Other points of interest to explore include the Moochalabra dam, the Prison Boab and the King River Crossing. Just before the junction of the Great Northern Highway on the outskirts of Wyndham, the road crosses black soil tidal flats.
The Karunjie Track makes an ideal day trip adventure to check out all the surrounding sights and photo opportunities. As with the rest of the Gibb River Road, a four wheel drive with good clearance will do fine along this route, which is best described as slow in parts rather than difficult.
Other touring options nearby include Wyndham to the north; Parry’s Lagoon Nature Reserve to the east; and the Bungle Bungles (Purnululu National Park) to the south.
Wyndham offers fuel at almost 20 cents per litre less than neighbouring Kununurra. Other than that, the Five Rivers Lookout offers amazing views of the main rivers that run into the Cambridge Gulf (Ord, Forrest, King, Durack and Pentecost Rivers).
Parry’s Lagoon and in particular Marlgu Billabong is an excellent wetlands area to spy on the local birdlife, particularly at the observation deck. If you’re keen to get in touch with nature over a number of days, check out Parry’s Creek Farm Tourist Resort, which offers a range of accommodation options within the nature reserve.
Otherwise, the other Kimberley key attraction is the Purnululu domes of the Bungle Bungles. The domes are accessed by enduring a 2-3hr, 4wd only, rough track, stretching across 53km. While our travels didn’t extend that way on this occasion, fellow travellers have commented on the amazing walks and experiences from scenic flights.
Call of the Wild
It really is difficult to resist the call of the Kimberley as one of Australia’s premier four-wheel drive touring destinations. With the combination of warm climate, remote and rugged mountain country, amazing scenery, spectacular gorges and deep swimming pools, the only challenge is packaging an itinerary that balances time available with time spent absorbing the beauty of the region, rather than just driving.