Sunday, 3 August 2014

Mitchell Falls and the Mitchell Plateau

One of the swimming holes at King Edward River.

The falls at King Edward River.
The Mitchell Plateau is something of rite of passage on the Gibb, its main attraction being the Mitchell Falls which are supposedly spectacular. There are a few options to make your experience here wonderful, all depending on how much money you want to spend and how much effort you want to put in. It's extremely easy to get a flight from Drysdale Station and go and see the Falls from the air (at $400 per person for around about a 45 min flight), whereby you have minimised damage to your car, but spent a fair bit of cash and haven't actually 'touched' the falls or felt the vibe. You can drive up and camp, and then walk up to the falls and get a 5 minute helicopter ride back to the start ($130 per person) whereby you've saved some fatigue on your legs, but you've got the label of being a bit lazy. Or you can go the way of the Uys Huis, drive up, camp at the King Edward River campground,  get up at sparrow fart, drive 90kms  down to the Mitchell Falls carpark, force your 4 year old to walk up and back (about four hours with swims and morning tea),  pay the rangers $3 a litre for diesel to ensure you have enough to get back to your campground, then drive the 90kms back, whereby your are exhausted but your wallet is not as light as everyone else's... Here's how it all panned out.

The Uys Huis in action.
Outdoor cinema and spaghetti bolognese.

The top campground of King Edward River at the Mitchell Plateau is lovely, with massive sites, each with a fire pit and close to a lovely swiming hole. There are excellent examples of aboriginal rock art nearby and as a National Park camping ground, fairly reasonable at $10 per adult per night. Mitchell Falls was still a 90km 4WDrive away, and we'd decided to just drive down for the day instead of putting our ailing camper trailer through another harrowing trip. This idea was set in stone when Fiela realised that the rigour of driving up the Kalumbaru Road from Drysdale Station, we had chewed up way more fuel than he thought, leaving us in the precarious position of wondering whether we'd even have enough to get back to Drysdale and its diesel pumps. The caretaker at the campground surmised that the rangers at Mitchell Falls would probably sell us some, enough to get back to Drysdale at least.

Fiela and Firepits. 

So it was to bed early and up again at 5.30am, packed and ready for our day of 4WDriving and walking. Can you hear the excitement?? I'd begun wondering why we here, it all seemed like such a bloody awful effort to get to a set of waterfalls, especially when  ten minutes into the drive the cable tie broke and we had to stop and fix the wheel trim again. We'd come so far, with grim determination we drove on over the bumps and lumps which had been graded a week earlier. Apparently the road is a dream to drive... if you follow the grader that is: the roads deteriorate ridiculously quickly.

Vague rock art on the walk into Mitchell Falls.

The drive in was very pretty, we drove through some firing of the landscape,  and it was all painfully beautiful,  watching this life giving fire creep its way through the lush bush. We finally arrived at Mitchell Falls two hours later, ready to immerse ourselves in its splendour, but the only person who really thought it was splendid straight off was Caesar, who almost exploded with the excitement of helicopters taking off every 5 minutes. And even the car park was busy with punters getting ready for the walk up to the Falls: where had they all come from? I'd left out an option: you can leave your camper trailer at Drysdale Station, drive up to the APT Wilderness Camp (just up the road from the Falls) and stay in one of their luxurious safari tents with full board and explore the place from there. We had friends who did this and whilst they didn't disclose the price, the word 'exorbitant' was used extensively. Uuuurgh it was all getting a bit much.

Cool walking trail markers, based on the local rock art.
The top of Little Mertens Falls, Plateau in the background.

But we set off, Marguerite happy to be out of the car, stopping at pretty Little Merton's Falls before getting to the spectacular Big Merton's Falls. Even the constant drone of airbourne craft circling the area could  not destroy the  majesty of these falls and the gorge 100+ metres below. It was a bit concerning, these amazing cliffs with no fencing and children who seem to have no fear of heights, but I could have easily spent the morning here gazing out over the moisture plumed gorge and headed back to the car park,  satiated. But Mitchell Falls was literally around the corner, so on we trekked.

Big Merten's Falls and tall cliffs.
Looking down to the bottom of Big Merten's Falls.

Creek crossing!
The top of the falls is quite uninspiring : you've got to take your shoes off, walk 100metres through the creek, then follow your nose (past the helicopter passenger waiting area) around the rocks to get a proper view. It is spectacular,  all that water dropping from one massive pool to the next, down to the gorge floor way below. Even the helicopters stopped for an hour or so as we sat on some huge boulders and watched the water flow through the Falls. Fiela was most disappointed that he couldn't go for a swim, the pools being of great significance to the Aboriginal custodians and no go zones for everyone else. He is incredulous, but I think it is important, if only to awaken the awareness in us, tourists, that not every place is open to us to trample over, drop our rubbish in and write our names on. That some places must be left to simply be important and sacred as significant areas of spirituality.

Caesar at the source of a tantrum.

Being two, anytime is good for a tantrum.
Mitchell Falls.

We had a swim at the top pools, a lovely spot in itself,  and had the added bonus of leftover birthday cake for morning tea. The helicopters and planes started up again and we decided to walk back out, passing a few tour groups on the way. Mitchell Falls is a beautiful place, but it does leave you with the faint feeling of having just been to the circus.

More Mitchell Falls, cliffs and no fence action
Caesar and his first foray into bushwalking.

We got back to the carpark, and found the rangers who were more than happy to give us a few litres of diesel at a highly inflated price. We then found the Doves who'd just arrived and were setting up their  camp of tents, having left their camper at the top campground. We said goodbye, knowing we'd see them in two days at Manning Gorge, and trekked through the Plateau in the lovely afternoon light, glad Mitchell Falls was behind us.

Firing the land on the Mitchell Plateau.

And that was the problem: we'd approached this part of the Gibb River Road like work, something we had to do because we'd turned onto the Kalumbaru Road, and that we'd do it as quickly as possible instead of taking our time. And that is the number one rule on the GRR, and maybe in the Kimberley in general: Take Your Time.

1 comment:

  1. Just green with envy Leroux checking out your adventures to all those places I intended to take Bronwyn one day. Here's wishing the whole family a continued happy and safe journey, just wish we could spend one evening around the campfire with you telling a few yarns. Very best wishes from Bob & Bronwyn Cohen.