Written By ~ Kerrie Burgess
Participants ~ Seven Vehicles of TLCC Members
Duration ~ 1 Month
Destination ~ Alice Springs to the Kimberleys
Mick & Kate were fortunate enough to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary at this awesome site with a helicopter trip over the ranges to mark the special occasion. There were congratulations and a few celebratory drinks with friends to mark this wonderful achievement.
The convoy consisted of seven vehicles with thirteen happy campers. After initial greetings and introductions, we departed Alice Springs to begin an epic and long awaited journey to the spectacular and remote Kimberley region. The Tanami Road, Wolf Creek Creator, Purnululu National Park, Kununurra, the Gibb River Road, El Questro, Mitchell Falls, Derby, the Horizontal Falls, and lots more in between would provide exquisite scenery and excitement for the coming five weeks. Experience, knowledge, individual skills and talents, laughter, and friendship is always freely available and invaluable on an adventure of this kind where anything can, and usually does happen.
Unfortunately, our trip leaders informed us that they would not be travelling on our first day as Julia was suffering from an attack of vertigo. Julia’s father opted to stay behind as well, so Fred climbed into Michael Schuttke’s truck and we set off, intending to drive about half way up the Tanami then camp and wait for the other two cars. After the first two hundred clicks, the Tanami Road introduced us to the dusty and corrugated tracks that would lie ahead. We rattled our way up the track until we found a reasonable sized open area in which to make camp. The following morning at about 9:15 am, Michael Fox put out a call on the UHF radio and managed to contact Bill Lewis. The other two cars were only about forty kilometres away. Reunited, the convoy moved on.
The weather warmed quickly, and by the time the convoy entered Wolfe Creek National Park we had all settled very nicely into the bush camping mode. Space was very limited in the camping area, as some travellers had camped right in the middle of the larger spaces, leaving just two small campsites for our seven cars.
After walking over to Wolfe Crater, we were a little surprised to read that it was formed 300,000 years ago by a meteorite weighing 50,000 tonne and hitting the earth at a speed of 15 km a second.
The afternoon was spent by the ladies of the group, endeavouring to deplete our supply of vegetables (before hitting the quarantine station) by making potato scones. Scone making lessons were provided by Marianna to Kate, an enthusiastic learner, with the other ladies all supplying “helpful” hints. Within the hour, scrumptious potato scones were produced for everyone. Afternoon tea never tasted so good, although there was a tense moment when the lid of the camp oven was removed and all eyes peered in. Well done ladies!
The peacefulness of the camp was shattered at 5:45 am the following morning. Andy, our resident insomniac, decided that his second battery was not supplying enough power to his fridge, so he decided to fire up his diesel 60 Series and rattled around the camping area a few times! The early morning call however allowed us additional time to savour the day.
After completing the last few kilometres of the Tanami, we turned onto the blacktop for the 38 km run into Halls Creek where we had a quick stopover to refuel, restock supplies, and shower as it had been five days since leaving Alice. Our intended camp for the night was Palm Springs, but on the way we stopped for a look at Caroline Pool and found a very pleasant campsite with plenty of space for everyone. We decided that we may as well camp there. This was our first glimpse of the Kimberley, with its beautiful rugged red and orange cliffs plunging into a crystal blue pool, so needless to say we immediately set up camp at this permanent waterhole fed by the Elvire River. Some relaxed for the afternoon and others enjoyed the Rodeo back at Halls Creek to end another wonderful day.
The following day we headed further west to explore the site of Old Halls Creek, the site of the first gold discovery in Western Australia. Little is left of the old town except some street signs and a few concrete cairns. At one time, these boasted small bronze plaques informing travellers of what shop had once been there, and who had lived there. Sadly most of the plaques have been stolen. Sitting under a modern tin roof in an effort to protect the historically important old building are the remains of the old mud brick Post Office. On top of the hill is the town’s old cemetrey. After spending an hour or so wandering around, it was time for us to hit the track and continue travelling towards Palm Springs. It was just as well we hadn’t continued on our way here the previous night as it is a day use only area and there is very little room to park, let alone make camp. While walking around the edge of the billabong, the walking track caved in under Bill’s foot and he fell into the billabong, camera and all. He’d done some damage to his ankle, so after some dry clothes and morning tea, Julia became the driver of the Patrol.
Our next short stops were at Sawpit Gorge which we found to be somewhat underwhelming, followed by China Wall which is a thin vein of white quartz, left standing as a wall after the surrounding rock had weathered away. Almost back at New Halls Creek, we were all looking forward to having lunch at the bakery in town. We were very surprised to learn that the bakery and one of the supermarkets were closed! Not only that, but we were very lucky to be amongst the last vehicles able to get any fuel in town as all the servos had run out!
Our next stop was Purnululu National Park, otherwise known as the Bungle Bungle Ranges. Expectations were high as the convoy started upon the 53 km track into the National Park through many small creek crossings, arriving to see the sun setting on the ranges some two hours later. As we ventured further into the ranges, the grandeur of the beehive dome structures became apparent for their incredible natural beauty. We spent two days exploring the walks into Echidna Chasm, Little Palms, Cathedral, Piccaninny Gorges, and the Domes with each varying in duration and degree of difficulty. The dingoes howling in the distance, and the sky lit by stars and moonlight, marked yet another wondrous encounter with our great country. The Bungle Bungle Ranges are one of those places you really need to experience for yourself to really appreciate the surreal atmosphere and terrain.
After camping in Purnululu National Park for three nights, it was time to head back out to the Great Northern Highway where we spotted the first of many Boab trees as the convoy proceeded towards Kununurra. After visiting the Sandalwood and Zebra stone factories, historical homesteads, Argyle Dam, the Hoochery (a rather unique rum distillery), and enjoying a boat cruise along the Ord River, the four days spent in Kununurra quickly flashed by and it was time for us to head further north to Wyndam. None of our party had been to Wyndham before and although it was only a 90 km, one hour drive along the blacktop, the decision was made to take the backtrack, which would take us two days to travel the 160 km of four-wheel drive tracks.
We visited the magnificent Marlgu Billabong for the ultimate bird watching experience. Our binoculars were put to good use examining the flora and fauna of the area under the shaded gazebo built out over the water. A little further up the track was Telegraph Hill. Little is left of the buildings these days except the concrete stumps of the buildings. During the First World War, Naval Intelligence Officers used the telegraph station to intercept German radio messages. The station played a vital role in the tracking and sinking of the German Raider ‘Emden’ by HMAS Sydney, off the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. You know those silly conversations you sometimes have about the ideal campsite when you are out in the bush... beautiful open grassy area, cool refreshing pool, palms trees and of course, the obligatory waiter. Well, while trying to find a campsite for the night, Bill and Julia turned up a small rough track and ran smack bang into Parry’s Creek Farm; a beautiful uncrowded grassy camping ground complete with palms, pool, and a licensed restaurant. This is a recommended must for any travellers game enough to tackle the back road.
Wyndam is renowned for its 2,000 year old Boab tree, and a mule, with both residing in the local caravan park. Luckily, Kate had her wits about her and was able to scramble back aboard her vehicle before the mule gave her a friendly nudge. Overlooking the town, and for miles all around, is the Five Rivers Lookout. The convoy climbed the steep mountain and spent an hour or so trying to distinguish the tracks we’d come into town, along with the other ‘attractions’. After spending another hour back at the local pub enjoying Barramundi, chips, and a quick beer, it was time for us to move on as we had a long way yet to go.
Our intended destination for the night had been El Questro Station, but a long afternoon 4WD stint on the Karinje Track through El Questro went well into the evening so a change of plan was called for - the signpost for Home Valley pointing our way just after crossing the Pentecost Rivers. We had heard that Home Valley was not only better, but cheaper too. We certainly weren’t disappointed. Its pristine grounds, sparkling pool, open air restaurant, and lush grass to pitch a tent, provided a very welcome “home” for two nights. Because we had more than ten people in our group, our camping fees were reduced from $16.00 per night, to just $12.00 per night. The following day, good use was made of the mechanic’s workshop with repairs to the 2nd and 3rd tyres claimed by the Gibb River Road.
Another spectacular day dawned, and it was off on a day trip to explore El Questro Station. Emma and El Questro Gorges, and Zebedee Hot Springs. The surroundings and the icy cold waterfalls throughout the gorges litreally took our breath away! Sunset provided croc-watching opportunities along the beautiful Pentecost River and as night fell, I couldn’t help but reflect on how lucky and blessed we were to be travelling this magnificent country.
Eventually we were all at Drysdale River Station, and after refuelling and having organised the tow truck for Bill Snr’s car, we made camp for the night alongside the river.
Leaving the Pajero behind (but not the passengers) we travelled towards the iconic Mitchell Falls along Kalumburu Road, and set up camp at Munuru or King Edward campground, a great water hole for removing the dust and a well-earned relax.
As we sat around at night enjoying a cooling ale or two, a man arrived on foot asking for help. Unfortunately the man, his wife, and eight children had been making their way towards King Edward when the front axle, along with the axle housing snapped on their six wheel drive, stretched Nissan Patrol. Those of us without roof top tents drove the 5 km out to the stricken vehicle and picked up the family of ten (Mum, Dad, and eight children under ten) as well as their four tents and enough equipment to tide them over while emergency arrangements were made.
The slow and shuddering journey along Kalumburu Road continued over several hours and copious corrugations towards the Mitchell Falls camping area. We set up camp and organised a roaring fire in order to cook a baked dinner while we sat around enjoying the company.
In the morning, we set off on the 8.6 km return trek to the falls. It was apparent by the expressions on our faces that it was absolutely, astoundingly, breathtaking and worth the effort of the walk. The next day our group split for a little while as some ventured further north to Walsh Point while Andy and Eric went on to Kalumburu. Each destination was impressive in its own way, and worth every little knock, jolt, bounce, and shake both to the vehicles and ourselves.
Continuing southward back to Drysdale Station, we bid a sad farewell to our trusty leaders, Bill, Julia, and Bill Snr who had another day to wait for their tilt tray tow truck. They would follow the tow truck back into Kununurra to arrange for the car carrier to take the Pajero to Sydney.
The rest of the convoy continued along the Gibb River Road to Barnett, Bell, and Galvin gorges. All of which were wonderful and uniquely spectacular. As the weather had exceeded 30°C most days, swimming in the gorges was a welcome relief and appreciated by everyone.
That was until Winjana Gorge, one of the most exquisitely beautiful but hazardous gorges. Contrasting with its black sheer cliffs is fine white sand, together with freshwater crocodiles lurking on the banks and in the water. We witnessed fellow travellers so engrossed and mesmerised by the scenery that they omitted to keep watch for crocs, until a muffled bark was heard two metres from their footsteps. Obviously, only photo opportunities happened here - for us at least!
Tunnel Creek was the last official destination of our trip before reaching Derby. This is where we waded through the underground river system by torchlight. It was here that we bid goodbye to Andy and Eric who managed to add a tyre to the casualty list on the tarmac not long after their departure. The rest of us ventured onto Derby.
Arrival in Derby was late in the afternoon and it was to be our last day together as the trip officially ended at this point. Kate, Mick, Shane, and I took this opportunity to visit the pristine Horizontal Falls. Only accessible by seaplane, this isolated wilderness area was one of the many highlights of this five week adventure. Words cannot begin to describe the Kimberley region; however, the amazing landscapes, the laughter shared with friends, and the memories have been etched in all our minds forever.