Exploring the Kimberley
Lake Argyle to Mitchell Falls
LEFT TO RIGHT: A sealed section of the Gibb River Road; sunset at Cockburn Lookout; Bell Gorge.
Our adventure started at Lake Argyle, which we discovered has a water volume of over 16 times that of Sydney Harbour. Under clear skies some fresh water crocs sunbake on the bank, birdlife abounds and fish feeding was part of the trip. Silver Cobbler is the main fish found in the dam, but several other species joined in.
After lunch we had a chat to Charlie, owner of Lake Argyle Resort about his development plans. We were surprised at the speed and scope of the resort improvements and will definitely be back to check out the result. We ended a perfect day at Pannikin Point where the moon came up well before the sun set.
Kununurra was our first destination. After a quick visit to the Tourist Info Centre it was on to Home Valley Station via the beginning of the Gibb River Road. Unfortunately there were a few fires around, so we found Emma Gorge closed due to the risk. At Home Valley we checked out the Pentecost River Bush Camp, wet a line, but opted for the less dusty comfort of the Homestead Campground. After seeing the sunset from a lookout to Cockburn Range, we treated ourselves to dinner at the Dusty’s Bar at the Homestead. It was here that we caught our first reported sighting of the 4WD Touring Australia team and our Map Patrol, who had passed by a few days earlier while mapping and exploring the Kimberley. We would aim to catch up to them soon.
Moving at a more leisurely pace we took in scones at Ellenbrae and again enjoyed chatting to some keen Hema users and seasoned travellers, who gave us some more tips on the highlights not to be missed. Drysdale Station was our overnight stop on the way to the Mitchell Plateau, with our on-board mechanic and friend Steve Ramsay taking a good look over the vehicles and trailers with his mate Brett before several running repairs were carried out.
On to King Edward River Campground. What a gem of a place! After a chat and a cup of tea with volunteer Verna, we enjoyed a late afternoon swim in the King Edward River and a walk to the cascade.
Mitchell Falls or bust! 70 kms of dirt, but again had been graded so we were pleasantly surprised. We elected to take the Slingair helicopter in and walk out at our own pace. We reckon it was well worth the extra spending and were impressed with the way the pilot showcased the falls for us. Little Merton Falls were pretty and we welcomed a swim in the beautiful waterhole, refilled our drink bottles and checked out some rock art.
Then back to the King Edward River Campground via some well-hidden rock art that Verna had kindly let us know about. This was the best art I have seen to date. Another dip in the river, then a roaring campfire as again it was a cold night.
Mitchell Falls to Cable Beach
After spending a day at Manning River Campground the day before, we said goodbye to our new friends and headed for Silent Grove. We reached camp in time for a late afternoon visit to Bell Gorge, another gem of the Kimberley. As was becoming our habit, we joined some fellow campers, this time young families on extended road trips, around the campfire. They had spoken with Carlisle Rogers (Editor and Publisher of 4WD Touring Australia) earlier that day at Windjana Gorge, so we were getting close to he and the Map Patrol’s crew.
After some discussion about where to next we decided to head into Derby for a look then on to Broome. More reported sightings of Carlisle and the Map Patrol. A quick look at the Prison Tree, then on towards Broome, where the 4WD Touring crew and the Map Patrol materialised roadside. After a few running repairs by our trusty on-board mechanic Steve, back on the road and into Broome. After a late arrival and some housekeeping tasks we opted for dinner at Matso’s Brewery.
A visit to Minshull’s Motors (ARB stockist) and Tyrepower (Cooper stockist) had our replacement spare parts sorted in a jiffy, and then it was on the road to Middle Lagoon. As promised the road to Cape Leveque was probably the worst we had encountered, but still pretty good by outback standards.
How beautiful is Middle Lagoon? A wonderful cliff top campsite gave us the best of views and we caught up with Carlisle and the crew again, this time sharing a campfire and some downtime as well as wetting a line. Still no fish.
We decided to check out Whalesong as many folk had sung its praises along the track. Sure enough this boutique bush campground and excellent coffee shop are in an idyllic setting, so we indulged in coffee and cake and took in the view before returning to Middle Lagoon for some more fishing, book reading and general relaxation.
As we were watching the sunset and contemplating cooking up some dinner, some wonderfully generous fellow campers came by to thank us for our maps and give us some fresh mackerel fillets in appreciation. We were absolutely caught by surprise and fully enjoyed a fantastic fish dinner!
Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm is not only a genuine working business producing amazing distinctive natural pearls, but has the added bonus of being an excellent café in idyllic settings. We indulged in a perfect, beautifully presented lunch and I would recommend that indulgence to anyone up that way. Equally Lombadina is an unsung treasure. While it houses a unique church built from local timber and paperbark, the real surprise is the unspoilt white sandy beach where you can drive for miles almost alone. This one is definitely on the ‘to do list’ for a longer stay next trip.
Time to move on but at a leisurely pace. Destination Quandong Point, a free camping area still on the Dampier Peninsula but well within striking distance for Broome weekend escapes and accessible with a reasonable caravan. While there are no facilities at the beach camps in this area, the beach itself is stunning and we found a space where we had plenty of room to our own small group.
Cable Beach to Halls Creek
After pottering around the ancient rock formations at Gantheaume Point we enjoyed an ice cream from the van beside the road before heading to Cable Beach to watch the sun set. Of course the camels were front and centre and many 4WDrivers were taking advantage of the beach access. As darkness fell we were happy to return to our campers and cook up some simple fare.
After some personnel departures the three remaining explorers then set about packing up to move on to our next destination – Windjana Gorge – via the Willare Bridge Roadhouse. Willare Bridge turned out to have a great caravan Park, friendly staff and an enticing menu, but we decided to stay with the plan, pushing on to Windjana. By the time we had collected some firewood we were cruising into the campground almost on dark. As we unpacked I witnessed the magnificent colours of the last rays of sunlight on the cliffs, but had no time to get the camera.
Early morning is the best time to walk Windjana Gorge, before the heat of the sun reaches the floor of the valley. There is much to see, from fossilised rock, to birdlife, wallabies and of course the many Johnson Crocs! We counted 64 that we could see and we knew there were many more in the water. While they are largely harmless, we weren’t about to go swimming there. The gorge offers a vast rockface on either side with everchanging colours, some delicate wildflowers and boabs perched precariously in unexpected places high on the rocks.
After a quick lunch we headed over to Tunnel Creek Gorge, for another unique experience. Here you can walk through the underground caves where Jandamarra hid out during his conflict with police, while marvelling at the stalactites and other ancient rock formations. As we walked through the thigh deep chilly water in the dark we appreciated how much cover the caves would provide to those who are really a part of the ancient landscape.
After some debate we decided to head through to Halls Creek, positioning ourselves well to head down the Tanami the next day. The road from Windjana Gorge to the Great Northern Highway was not a fun road; definitely due for a grader. Without any major delays or problems, we were able to call into Fitzroy Crossing early in the afternoon then settle into Halls Creek in time to clean up and head to the hotel for dinner, before taking on the Tanami Track the next day on our way back to Brisbane.
Mapping taken from the Kimberley map.