Manning Gorge to Home Valley– Sun 7th Jun to Sat 13th Jun

Manning Gorge – Sun 7th Jun

The gorge itself is an easy few km from the campground.  To get to the head of the trail you have to cross the river, with a tinny on a rope pulley providing endless entertainment.

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Heading to the walk we bumped into another family travelling with SDEPS.  Chris and Rachel, with their girls Rhiannon, Esther and Felicity.  Hailing from the UK and shortly to return there, what better way to say goodbye to Australia than with a lap around.

The falls are a great swimming spot; wonderfully clear water with falls you can swim right under, for us this was arguably the pick of the swimmable gorges in the region.

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The rocks to the side of the gorge are ideal for jumping, although we weren’t up for jumping off the top like the crazy French guys.

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That night saw the first camp oven loaf of bread, cooked over the fire.  Unfortunately no pictures, with our girls waiting to devour, plus Chris and Rachel’s alongside, it would have taken a very brave man to say “stop, I need a photo”

King Edward River – Mon 8th Jun

So far the road conditions had been pretty benign.  Indeed, the crazy French guys were travelling in company with a Barina, although perhaps a little more slowly.  The Kalumburu road saw the end of all that, being the worst road we have driven on so far.  In places it was impossible to get above 15km/hr, in others you could do 70 through clenched teeth and hope the wing mirrors wouldn’t fall off.

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The above was a moderate section just after Drysdale; unfortunately no photos of the roughest bits, I was concentrating on keeping my fillings in place.

Stopping briefly at Drysdale to refuel and get some laundry done it was interesting to hear the horror stories – pick of the bunch was a jeep needing 4 new shocks and a new axle, yes he bought a jeep…..

The landscape up here is best described as interesting places separated by long distances filled with grass and trees (and palm trees on the Mitchell Plateau).  There are no grand sweeping vistas visible from the road, but it is special all the same.

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The King Edward River campground is on the Mitchell Falls road a few km after the river crossing and boasts some of the newest toilets we have seen.  Although somewhat perplexing was the disabled toilet at the head of a flight of steps.

With Rachel and Chris joining us, having dropped their Jayco at Drysdale, it was a great spot for a night around the fire.

Mitchell Falls – Tue 9th to Wed 10th Jun

We had always been concerned about this road.  Dubbed the “worst road he had ever driven’’ by Daniel (Mission Trailers); we had imagined some terrible rock strewn, axle snapping stretch of corrugations.  In the end it depends on where the grader is – in this case it hadn’t been anywhere near the Kalumburu road, but had just finished Mitchell so it was actually a relief to drive this stretch.  In a few more weeks it could the opposite; luck of the draw.

The camp site is a mix of smaller side areas and larger areas taking multiple vehicles, with trees providing partial shade.  Chris and Rachel, enjoying the extra speed not towing gave them, had arrived first and picked out a great little side area just big enough for 2 groups to set up next to the fire ring.

Also time for us to try out the second of the canvas panels we had had made up; this one provides extra shade across the back of the kitchen area.

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As the name of the site implies there is only one reason to be here, Mitchell Falls, although the walk to them is also rather fun in its own right with several things to see along the way.

First up is Little Mertens Falls, whilst not huge there is a great view from the top plus you can walk behind the fall itself.

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To the side of the fall is an overhang with a great example of Aboriginal rock art.

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The walk then winds its way through the bush before descending into a river valley where it scrambles over boulders before you reach another overhang.  Here there is a much greater concentration of rock art.

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Shortly after this the trail crosses the top of Big Mertens Fall, where the river cascades into a narrow gorge.  Its vertigo inducing just walking to the edge of the falls; the crazy French guys were back though, sitting on a rock ledge over a sheer precipice.

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Finally you reach the main piece, Mitchell Falls.  With water levels low it was possible to splash across the top of the falls to the other side, allowing a shortcut to the viewpoint where all 3 pools are visible.  Even with low water (and there is talk the falls will run dry by the end of the season), the falls are spectacular.

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Above the top fall is a scenic little swimming hole.  Swimming in the lower pools is discouraged, fierce snake ancestors inhabit the middle pool and if you make it past those the lower pool is full of salties.

Drysdale Station – Thu 11th Jun

Time to face the Kalumburu road corrugations for a second time.  Testing the theory that speed floats over the bumps was an Apollo hire van, impressive given their hire terms forbid taking them up this way.

At King Edward on the way out are more Aboriginal art sites, one with rather eerie alien like faces

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Drysdale is the main station on the Kalumburu Road providing camping, fuel, basic supplies and a restaurant / bar.  They do need to work on their curry though, it was rather a decent lamb stew.  Sadly they don’t provide mechanical assistance, as Chris and Rachel were having problems with their car.  Apparently the station stopped helping when someone threw it back in their face as a lawsuit, there are some real losers out there.

Home Valley Station – Fri 12th to Sat 13th Jun

It was a relief to get back onto the Gibb River Road and some semblance of a smooth surface.  Actually the road was very good, the main risk being the twisty bends in various places, marked on a few occasions with burnt out toyotas

First stop along the way is Ellenbrae, home to both scones and a donkey heater shower.  The scones were great, we didn’t stay so can’t comment on the shower – from comments on wikicamps it seems like it catches out many people.

Home Valley is also known as HV8 after its cattle brand, the 8 being harder to change than an S.  Driving over the last rise on the way the countryside opens up with the Pentecost glistening in the valley and the Cockburn Range running along the eastern side

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The station boats the best gate yet seen on this trip, looks like someone had a fair bit of time one wet and put it to good use

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Aside from a pool the station also offers horse riding, fishing and walking.  Camping is either at the homestead or down on the banks of the river.  Charlotte was happy to get a ride in, and we were fortunate to watch a stock whip performance plus Polly the donkey.

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Baldy’s Hill, a couple of km from the homestead, provides a decent view of the ranges; plus a local showing off on the rocks along the path.  Thanks to Chris and Rachel for taking the photo, having arrived the day before in a shiny hire Pajero, complete with mine markings and orange light, whilst their car was taken to Kununurra for repair.

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An added attraction was the Sandridge Band, an indigenous group which sets its songs to a rock & roll / reggae theme.  Shame they thought loud meant better, although it made for an interesting night at the restaurant.  Pick of the menu has to be the full rack of ribs, which at HV8 means both sides of the pig; it took an hour to consume, no bacon sandwiches required the next morning.

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Windjana Gorge to Manning Gorge – Sun 31st May to Sat 6th Jun

Windjana Gorge – Sun 31st May to Mon 1st Jun

Heading east from Birdwood it still doesn’t feel like the Gibb River Road proper.  Although there are some dirt stretches it is still mainly tarmac, albeit just a single lane along the crown of the road.  A bit like driving in India, trucks own the right of way.

Finally, just before the Windjana turn the tarmac drops away.  But the conditions are still really quite civilised, minor corrugations which seem most suited to about 70km/hr.  Arriving at the site you’d have thought there was a gold rush on – 10am and queuing 6 deep at the registration booth, maybe something to do with the long weekend.  There are no allocated places here, we found a shaded spot, handily with a picnic table for the ever present schoolwork.

Arriving early at a site affords the sport of watching later arrivals try to find a spot.  Funny to spectate, but never comfortable when the shoe is on the other foot.

Rising sheer from the landscape at Windjana is a Devonian reef through which the Lennard river has carved a channel.  It is incredible to think this is basically the remains of uncounted billions of tiny organisms from millions of years ago.

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This gives some spectacular scenery.

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It also provides a home to a great number of freshwater crocodiles.

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Just up the road from Windjana is the aptly named Tunnel Creek, one of Australia’s smallest national parks.  Here rather than forming a gorge, the river has cut a tunnel through the reef.  Not only an interesting geographical feature, it also has local history.  A leader of the local people in fighting the spread of the white man was Jandammara, who used this place as a hideout

On a stinking hot day this was a lovely cool place to be.  To get through requires some clambering over rocks and wading in places, however as the wet this year seems to have been anything but, it was no more than knee deep; with a more normal wet season it is common to be almost swimming.

Half way along the tunnel roof has collapsed, providing some welcome sunshine to push back the dark.  At this point Hils and Pippa waited, the rest of us pushed on to the far end where the tunnel opens onto a pretty little stream.

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Amongst the wildlife counting this place as home were a couple of crocodiles gazing out from the deeper pools, and a colony of bats away up in the cave roof.

Silent Grove – Tue 2nd to Wed 3rd Jun

The road conditions remained persistently pleasant, presumably connected with the grader and steamroller we passed, busily flattening everything out.  Aside from the scenery, a landmark on the way is a rock formation with a peculiar likeness to Queen Victoria’s head in profile. The nose is a little sharp, but the forehead is there if you look closely.

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Along the way the road winds through the Leopold Ranges, named for a Belgian king we had never heard of (actually King Leopold II, best known for the establishment of the Congo Free State and the longest reign of any Belgian King, according to Wikipedia)

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Silent Grove is down a side track, left from the GRR.  The only reason to go there is to camp near to Bell Gorge, which is a further 10km down the side track plus a few km walk in.  It is a lovely little camp in its own right, but you have to time your shower run carefully as they are solar.

A couple of slithery locals gave a surprise on the second night, I don’t know why one thought a 110 provided good cover but it was there for a couple of hours, perhaps it just had good taste….

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The walk into the gorge is pretty but nothing special until the end, where nature has provided its very own infinity pool at the top of the falls

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Climbing down takes you to a great swimming pool at the base of the falls, even the local lizards agree.

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Mornington Wilderness – Thu 4th to Fri 6th Jun

Once you’ve seen the gorge it is time to move on, with the GRR continuing to wind through the Leopold Range.  Within the ranges there is the option of 2 wilderness retreats, Mt Hart and Mornington.  We had heard a few negative comments about Mt Hart so Mornington it was.

Mornington does not take bookings for camping, instead you radio them from a radio in a shack at the turn-off.  The OCD was probably kicking in a bit, but this meant we were away from Silent Grove rather early, just in case.  In practise a couple more hours of sleep could perhaps have been had, plenty of room at the inn.

Mornington lies at the end of what feels like the world’s longest driveway, c.80km south from the GRR.  Presumably as it less trafficked it, however, was in great condition; we originally had visions of rock hopping, but were there in 2 hours.  The main risk is the cows – the stupid creatures just walk out into the road and stare at you in a bovine game of chicken.

Mornington is a tract of land owned by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Set up by Martin Copley in 1991, the AWC now owns and manages 23 sanctuaries covering over 3m hectares.  Being run on a conservancy basis Mornington has been destocked, with the added bonus therefore of no flies.  Hot showers, flush toilets and a bar, a little slice of heaven (yes, we are easily pleased these days).  The girls certainly enjoyed the cold lemonade, and we had a chance to test one of the new canvas panels we had picked up in Broome

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As its main attraction this place has both an enormous variety of native bird species and some impressive gorges.  Not being twitchers we headed for the gorges, both of which lie to the south of the campground along pretty easy dirt roads.  It might be harsh to suggest the roads are deliberately cut to get to the river a short way from the gorges, and perhaps coincidental that canoes can be hired ($65 a go), but that is the impression we got.

Dimond Gorge looks rather imposing, with cliffs hanging over a large pool.  The feeder river to the gorge is rather pretty.

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Sir John Gorge is hard to see from the walk in, being away to the left.

Down the river from Sir John is a lovely little swimming hole with a rope swing which provided everyone with a great deal of fun.

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It was at this pool we met Roger and Jada, also from Sydney and travelling around with Sydney Distance Education.  Lovely family and a great evening at the bar chatting away.

Manning Gorge – Sat 7th Jun

Gorges exhausted it was back to the world’s longest driveway, and the suicidal cows.  On a better note we also crossed paths with a local dingo, its not so purebred buddy and a rather impressive boab.  Funny how boabs are a lot like people, they start off thin and tend to blow out in later life.

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Manning Gorge is reached via the Mt Barnett Roadhouse.  Reaching there around midday it seemed it was just in time, the highflow diesel was dry and there were doubts about the normal diesel, with the next delivery Wednesday.  Those arriving later in the day were restricted to 50l, and we hear the pumps did actually run dry in the end before the tanker arrived.

The campsite itself is really just a series of areas cut into the bush either side of a track.  The far end to the right looked like the best bet; although a walk from the amenities it also meant the generator pumping water to the toilets was not too intrusive.

With a little fire ring dinner was completely over the fire, no gas required.  Gas was one of our concerns for the Kimberley, as with plans to go to Mitchell Falls first it would be some time before the next opportunity to refill.  As it turned out there was no need to worry, with dinner over the fire in many places.

Cape Leveque to Birdwood Downs – Sun 24th May to Sat 30th May

Goombaragin – Sun 24th to Thur 28th

Cape Leveque, or more correctly the Dampier Peninsular, is special.  Bordered with deep red cliffs stooping into crystal clear water, it is a beautiful place.

As ever we had looked for somewhere less developed than the main destinations.  Don’t get me wrong, we use caravan parks as necessary to top up with water, do laundry etc. but at other times prefer to avoid the cheek by jowl living.

Goombaragin certainly met our requirements.  Run by Kathleen and John, it is situated on Pender Bay, reached by a turn off from Middle Lagoon road.  So just the matter of c.175km of dirt road to get there; however whilst heavily corrugated in places the drive is pretty simple.

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They have a few eco-tents plus a couple of camp spots, all located along the edge of the cliff and looking out to sea. Add in the hot showers and the communal firepit they light nightly and it’s a great place to unwind.

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A special hit with the girls was the olive python kept as a pet by John’s son Jack.  Only about a metre long they all took turns letting it slither over them.  Also a plus was John & Amanda and family arriving the day after us, the kids making the camp their playground.

Spear Making with Bundy

There are a few people running cultural tours on the peninsular.  One is Bundy, of the Djarandjin community, and as chance would have it Kathleen’s uncle.  Djarindjin is about an hours drive north of Goombaragin, and encompasses Chile creek, the location for the spear making course.  It all starts with straightening the fresh cut sticks over the fire, then removing the bark and attaching the tip.  You then head out into the incoming tide to try your luck.

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Fortunately some of  the local lads assisting Bundy had caught some mud crabs and surgeon fish, as us novices came up blank.  Crab fresh roasted over mangrove coals takes some beating.

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As well as spear making the course also provides a wealth of local knowledge – for example how the spinifex pigeons show where there is fresh water and how to find cockles among the mangrove roots – and highlights just how long the aboriginal peoples have been living in these areas, with 8,000 year old footprints in the rocks along the shoreline.

Cygnet Bay Pearls

This area also has a long connection with the pearl industry.  Located at Cygnet Bay, is the Cygnet Bay Pearl Company, originally set up by Dean Brown in 1946 as a mother of pearl business but now producing cultured pearls under the 3rd generation of family management.  They offer a fascinating tour of the facilities, explaining how the pearls are farmed.  It’s a real hands on tour, with the girls getting to extract a pearl from the oyster before having it graded.  Turns out pearls are similar to diamonds in being graded for certain key aspects like lustre, size and shape.  The girls were most disappointed not to be able to keep the necklaces, the one Pippa is sporting would be a mere $18,000…..

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Beagle Bay

To the south of Goombaragin is the community of Beagle Bay, originally set up by Trappist Monks around 1890 then in 1901 taken over by the Pallotine Fathers from Germany.  The religious order has departed, but has left behind a very interesting church, which uses local mother of pearl to great effect.  It was completed in 1918 whilst the monks were under house arrest during WW1.

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Broome – Fri 29th May

It was unfortunate we had made arrangements we needed to honour, as the inaugural Bardi Jawa festival was scheduled for Saturday at Lombadina, adjacent to Djarandjin.  Hopefully it was a success, and becomes an annual event, sounded like a great showcase for the local communities.

Back in Broome it was a day of picking up supplies, posting work back to school etc.  Also collecting a couple of canvas panels we’d had made up to go around the kitchen area of the trailer – to give extra shelter either from sun or wind.

Birdwood Downs (the Gibb River Road!) – Sat 30th May

A result on the drive out of Broome; on the side of the road was a practically new camping chair.

There is not a great deal to see until you get near Derby.  About 10km out of town is the Prison Tree, a reminder of times past.  This is a huge Boab tree, hollow in the middle but with a split in the side which allows access – it was in this tree that prisoners en-route for Derby were held overnight.  A feature of early settlement was the charming practise of blackbirding, seizing the young men of the local people and pressing them into ‘’employment’’, particularly in the early mother of pearl industry.  One wonders how many of them spent a night in this tree.

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In the same spot is a cattle trough large enough to service 500 head of cattle, and Frosty’s Pool.  The trough is now fed by pump, but when constructed the artesian bore was reputedly so strong it created a 1km billabong; which would have dwarfed Frosty’s Pool, a plunge pool built by serviceman in WW2 to cool off – of course officers had first dibs, other ranks went second.

Birdwood Downs is a horse station at the start of the Gibb River Road.  The first c.100k of this road is paved, which is a bit disappointing; given the iconic status of this road it feels like it should be rough from the get go.  A good location to overnight combined with a horse ride for Charlotte, but the worst place so far for mosquitos!

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