This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2007 Travels July 28

SATURDAY 28 JULY   MITCHELL PLATEAU TO HONEYMOON BEACH   220kms

We were up at 6am and away at 7.45.

Came across the mangled vehicle, still beside the track. He’d made a fair old mess of it. Judging by the big skid marks on the track, it had been on its way into the campground and Falls. It had been pushed to the side of the road, awaiting collection.

We stopped at the aboriginal art site by the King Edward River.

The grass around these had been burnt, so the various rocks and outcrops where the paintings occurred, were more obvious. It made wandering around the area really pleasant. The galleries now had board walks constructed around them, to protect the sites.

I thought that the “paint” had deteriorated since we first saw these, in 2000.

The Wandjina figures here are so powerful. They really do seem to be watching you.

As we approached the crossing of the King Edward River, a recovery tilt try truck was coming from the other side – presumably on the way to collect the accident vehicle. He mangled the crossing quite badly and had to reverse out to change direction. Definitely harder than it looks!

Recovery truck crossing the King Edward River

I think the river here had gotten deeper! We got water in the back of Truck, and on the back seat floor. I took photos of M doing the crossing.

Passenger’s view of the crossing
Truck fording the King Edward River

The road north to Kalumburu was rough – corrugated, still with some erosion channels, rocky in places. The Carson River Crossing, about 20kms before Kalumburu, had water in, but was straightforward.

We went straight through Kalumburu, noting that there seemed to be a number of new houses there. Continued on out past the airstrip, on the road to the barge landing, McGowans beach, Honeymoon Beach and the Pago Mission ruins. Whilst it was still rough, the track to Honeymoon did not have the deep sandy sections of before. It was usually somewhat re-routed every season, and they seemed to have found some firmer ground. There were none of the direction signs John had made on old tyres, in 2000, but the way was now better sign posted, with proper painted signs. However, we noted they had retained John’s star rating system – only now up to  seven stars! Ha!

Kalumburu localities

There did not seem to have been too much change at Honeymoon, and little for the better. The family now had a proper, high-set house, near the entrance, but all the old sheds were still there. They had survived the 2006 Category 5 cyclone, but it was noticeable that there was a lot less vegetation. Whole trees were gone, and the tops were out of most others. So the view was more open – and the camp area less shaded. The tank had gone off its stand – and was way down by the beach. The campground water was now very discoloured – a dark brown –  and was not drinkable – presumably the rather shallow bore had bottomed out. Campers had to have their own water with them – and replenish same if needed, in Kalumburu.

Les had not added any more to the partly built ablutions block to be, since 2000!

There were a lot more people here than we had expected. It was hard to find a spot to set up camp! In the end we had to opt for a place in full sun, but we did have a small view to the bay.

There were two large Bushtracker vans parked where we had camped in 2000, where there was still a little shade. On the other side of us was a camp of six men, here for the fishing. They were rather noisy – mostly just through sheer numbers.

There were sandflies in evidence now – and mosquitoes. Hadn’t had those here last time.

The showers – the same old two – were cold ones; what else could we have expected? There was no toilet paper provided – BYO! We found out soon enough that the campers from the Bushtrackers were cleaning the amenities each day, and emptying the rubbish bins. Relying on the paying guests to keep the place usable had not changed since 2000, it seemed.

Rather unwisely as it turned out, we’d already decided to stay a week here, before we had a good look round. We were charged $12 per person, per night, to stay here. Theoretically, we could pay $5 a night more for power, which we opted not to do. Good thing too, because the camp genset turned out to be off for most of each day – they were having problems with it.

Les’ wife Ruth was at the main shed, where they used to live, when we arrived. There were 13 puppies there too, including a kelpie-looking female pup that was absolutely gorgeous, and that I’d loved to have “rescued” and taken home with me. Unfortunately, not feasible.

It was very hot here.

Les remembered John, from 2000, when we had spent about three weeks here. We hoped he didn’t think John was going to do lots of free maintenance work around the place, like last time.

There was a community phone box here now – a steel box, 12 keys, no slots, no lights; it worked on punching in pre-paid card numbers only. I guessed it was about as vandal proof as they could make it.

We set up camp, then wandered about, looking.

The old camping shed was still down by the beach – it had survived, somehow.

The bay – Napier Broome Bay – was as beautiful as ever.

Napier Broome Bay from Honeymoon Beach

There was an area in front of our tents where there had previously been campfires, so we tidied that up, with a decent rock circle to contain it. Had loaded up some firewood onto the roof rack on the way here, so unloaded that. Here, it would be easy to go out into the bush and get more, as needed. In these parts, given the paucity and cost of gas refills, we tried, whenever possible to use a campfire for at least heating water, if not for cooking too. Even when it was hot, sitting round the embers of a campfire, into the evening, was pleasurable.

In this place, there was another practical reason for a fire – to burn as much rubbish as possible, given that the only collection of same from the campground, was done by fellow campers.

I think we both felt  sense of let down. We’d been prepared for this place to be pretty much like it was before, but to find it actually somewhat worse was a disappointment. Clearly, Les’ plans of 2000 had not really materialized; neither it seemed, had his hopes that some of his family would join him in the venture. There seemed to be a number of them living or spending time out here, but we did not see any of them contributing to the running of the place at all – apart from collecting the fees from the visitors.


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2007 Travels July 27

FRIDAY 27 JULY     MITCHELL PLATEAU CAMPGROUND

John and I both needed a rest day, today. John from walking and driving, and me from exercise in general.

M drove off to go to Surveyors Pool, which was a little further north from here. After yesterday’s strange ennui, I was not confident enough to offer to go walking with her – and in any case, John and I had walked into Surveyors Pool in 2000.

M actually decided to try to reach Port Warrender, on Admiralty Gulf, but found the track extremely rough, and then washed away, so could not continue. She back tracked and drove to the start of the Surveyors Pool walk. That had been changed, from 2000. It was now only a 1km walk – the driving track in had been extended. When we did it, there was a 4km walk, with almost no guide markings, through very tall grass and country where it was easy to get lost. Apparently, a 60 year old had done just that, when she went off the track to avoid a bull that was blocking the way. She was found, but that near disaster caused access, and the walk, to be made easier.

Typical Mitchell Plateau track – a good stretch!

M thought the outing to Surveyors Pool was worth the effort – especially since there were very few other people there.

We did some preliminary camp packing up. A generator going in the next camp to ours was really loud and annoying. John eventually went and asked them if they could move it to the other side of their set up, away from us. They did so – grudgingly – but kept it going well into the night.

Campground toilet

The nights here had been warmer.


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2007 Travels July 26

THURSDAY 26 JULY     MITCHELL PLATEAU CAMPGROUND

M and I had said, last night, that we would be doing the walk to the Mitchell Falls today, so John made the effort to get up early. He really didn’t feel like walking, but said he would force himself.

First thing, while John was still getting going, M and I walked to the shelter where bookings were being taken for the scenic helicopter flights. M wanted to do one of these, “catching” a flight back from the Falls to the campground, this afternoon. She hoped to do the extended flight, which would take her over parts of the surrounding countryside as well as the Falls. There was only one place available, on a 2.45pm flight back. Whether it would be the longer flight or a direct one back to camp would depend on the wishes of those who had already booked that flight. Seemed to me that commercial tour groups rather monopolized the helicopters, and that visitors like ourselves had to take what was left. A couple of commercial tour operators had seasonal camps not far away, and brought in steady numbers of visitors.

Features along the walk track from campground to Mitchell Falls (Zoom image)

In the morning light, John investigated the broken lamp. Some part had been broken when he dropped it, yesterday, so the lamp was out of action for the rest of the trip, and maybe forever! This did not put him in a good mood.

The track to the Falls is 4.3kms, each way, very scenic and has lots of interesting features, so it takes quite a while to do – hence wanting to get an early start. It was also definitely a bush walking track, rather than a stroll in the park, so one must keep a careful watch whilst walking.

Walking track and marker

 

Changing levels

It took us nearly an hour to get to Little Mertens Falls. Although the track was clearly defined, in parts it was quite narrow, with tall grass each side. There were places where rocks in the path required stepping up, or down. Little Mertens Falls was reached down a short side path.

Mertens Creek

Despite the name, it is a distinct waterfall, into a plunge pool, from which the creek made its way in narrow channels in the rock. The view across the plateau from these falls indicates they mark a real change in the level of the terrain. Unfortunately, one does not get a decent view of these falls from any distance – it is all close up.

Looking across the Plateau from behind Little Mertens Falls

A great feature of Little Mertens Falls is being able to walk in behind them, on a fairly flat ledge, where erosion over time has created a cave like structure. The dampness had turned it into a sort of grotto, with ferns growing.

Under the overhanging roof, and on some of the rocks surrounding the Falls, were some good examples of aboriginal rock art. I was intrigued by one shape that could have been the sails on a ship. It was interesting that the art here was of varied styles and subject matter.

Shape near the leaves could be a representation of a sailing ship?

We spent some time here – more than most of those who bothered deviating from the main track to come here. It was cooling to be able to look out at the view, through the falling water.

The next landmark, after more trudging along, was the Big Mertens Falls.

Here, the Mertens Creek plunges over a high cliff and into a deep, very narrow gorge, to join the Mitchell River below the Mitchell Falls. Great views, but that bit of the walk track was not great for someone who does not like heights, because it crossed not far from the lip of the falls and with no protection from that edge.

Mertens Falls

There was still a respectable amount of water going over the Big Mertens Falls.

Gorge of Mertens Creek – and helicopter

The walk track crossed Mertens Creek just behind the Falls – just a little bit too close to the enormous drop for my comfort.

Walk track crossed the top here

A final section, mostly up and over rock outcrops, shelves and ledges, brought us to a vantage point overlooking our destination, then we descended to the level of the Mitchell River.

Mitchell River – waterhole above the Falls
Looking down to the crossing point above the Falls

Most people crossed the river above the Falls, to gain the best access for swimming in the pool above the top of the Falls, and to reach the helicopter landing area. Because of the flowing current and slippery rocks, the crossing was rather treacherous. There was that awareness that one was only just above a series of big drops!

We almost had a disaster. John dropped his trusty walking stick and it briefly swirled away in the current, before getting stuck between rocks, from where it could be retrieved. That prop had been with him since he cut and made it, in 1998, when we were camped at Silver Plains, on Cape York. It had helped him trudge over 1000kms by now. It would have been almost like losing a part of himself!

Quite a current going over the first of several drops that make up the Mitchell Falls

All safely across, we wandered around, looking at the river and falls from various vantage points, had a wonderful swim in the calm pool. had lunch.

It was very pleasant, even though there were too many other people there. Their numbers were augmented every so often as the helicopters brought in groups of two and three, who had opted to arrive the easy way. Some of these would later walk out, others would travel both ways by chopper.

John and I always intended to walk back to camp, having taken the helicopter back on our 2000 trip – a terrifying experience I would never forget.

It was the hot early afternoon when we began the trek back, leaving M to wait for her flight.

On the walk back….can see where the birds sit!

I found the walk back really hard. Something was wrong. When we reached Big Mertens Falls, I was feeling sick and giddy. I didn’t think I was dehydrated. Found that I needed lots of stops on the way back, but could not regain energy, or a normal feeling, for long. It was quite strange, worrying and frustrating, because it made the walk seem so long. John had to take over carrying my camera and the daypack for the last part of the walk back – normally I did the pack carrying because of his hip problems.

That’s deep….

We were very glad to reach camp. We had taken so long that M was already back. She’d ended up doing only the direct $90 “taxi” flight, as that was what the others booked had wanted. But she said that had been enough to give her great views of the Mitchell Falls and the surrounding Plateau.

By the time I’d rested back at camp for an hour or so, was feeling reasonably alright again. We just relaxed around camp for the remainder of the afternoon, and discussed the day’s experiences.

The NZ birdwatcher group, who’d had the vehicle problem at Charnley, arrived in camp today. The hire company had ferried out a replacement vehicle for them.

We heard there had been an accident this morning, on the track between here and the airstrip near Camp Creek. A tourist, going too fast on a corner, went off the track, spun round, hit a tree and bounced back and hit a CALM vehicle on the track. Oops! He must have been really steaming along. The CALM vehicle was still operable, but the tourist vehicle was quite mangled and would be a recovery job. A very expensive recovery job! It was not a hire vehicle either, but a private one. We did not hear where the people in it got to – or how.

Such mishaps were fairly common on this track, unfortunately – avoidable though they mostly were. Too many travellers – like this one – make the sensible decision to leave their campers or offroad vans at the King Edward River. But because they do not have camp gear, they decide to try to make the trip to the Falls and back in one day – and the track conditions do not lend themselves to safely travelling fast. Then, of course, they have to rush the trip to the Falls, as well. I reckoned that if one made the considerable effort to get here, the place should be savoured….not just ticked off a “did that” list. I guess “savouring” sums up our approach to travel, most of the time.


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2007 Travels July 25

WEDNESDAY 25 JULY   MANNING GORGE CAMP TO MITCHELL PLATEAU CAMPGROUND   365kms

We were up early and away a bit before 9am.

The tedious chore of packing up camp…..
Burning the last of the rubbish

We made good time to the junction of the Gibb River and Kalumburu Roads – the Gibb was in really good condition along there.  Passed the turnoff into Gibb River Station – not sure whether the road was originally named for the station, or the river, further on.

As before, encountered a couple of impatient drivers, towing camper trailers, who seemed to think that anything less than 100kmh was too slow! One of these took the opportunity of us slowing to cross a running stream, to race past us, showering us with stones. I could only hope that this creek was one with a big hole, or a big rock under the water…..Not this time, but his turn would come, nothing surer.

On the Gibb River Road – this is where sensible drivers should slow down!
Hann River crossing – maybe?

The Kalumburu Road junction was what passes for a major intersection on the Gibb. Since we had been here last, a rest area had been constructed – complete with advertising boards for attractions along the roads.

Corner rest area
Kalumburu Road ahead….

Took the Kalumburu Road north.

After only about 3kms, crossed the shallow ford of the Gibb River. As usual, there was water in the river. Just beyond the channel were piles of sand that had been cleared from the crossing after the Wet Season. Unfortunately, as usual, there were a couple of groups of people camped just downstream of the ford – despite clear No Camping signs.

Approaching the Gibb River ford
Gibb River upstream from the crossing

It was the same story again, at the Plain Creek crossing – more illegal campers.

Once over the Gibb River ford, the road became more corrugated, to the point where I described it as really badly corrugated for a section of about 20kms, south of Drysdale River Station. A grader was working on it. This was not necessarily all good, because past experience had shown that graders could bring really sharp stones to the surface – bad for tyres.

Originally, we’d thought we might camp at Drysdale River Homestead, or at the King Edward River, for tonight. But because we’d done the 170kms to Drysdale River in good time, John decided we would try to make it to the Mitchell Plateau instead.

Refuelled at Drysdale River Homestead – $1.95cpl. Bought some cool drinks and icy poles.

The corrugations were even worse, north of Drysdale. This Kalumburu Road is not as intensively maintained as the Gibb, and seems to deteriorate more quickly after grading, too.

About 100lms north of Drysdale, turned onto the Port Warrender/Mitchell Plateau track. Shortly after the corner, came to the deceptively easy looking crossing of the King Edward River.

King Edward River crossing (Zoom)

It is not very wide, here, but can be deep and rocky. It is actually this little-seeming crossing that usually determines whether the track to the Mitchell Plateau is opened. It is also in this area that there is very pleasant camping along the King Edward River.

King Edward River crossing

M went first, for a change, because she wanted me to take photos of her driving through the crossing. She took a fairly straight line and really rocked about, once dipping her nose under the water. For us, the water in the crossing was up to the door sills, and it was a bit rocky. John took a curving line to the left, for no other reason than the crossing seemed to have been graded that way. It was not as bumpy or deep as the line M had taken.

M crossing the river

We parked in shade near the campground here, to eat our packed lunches.

Further along the track – some 71kms – was another track junction. Straight ahead continued on to the turnoff to Surveyors Pool, and to  Port Warrender. (The latter part of this track was often washed out and impassable). We turned left, just beyond the airstrip that services the local aboriginal community, and the camps of commercial operators, onto the final 14kms to the Mitchell Plateau campground.

The track from the King Edward River was actually better than we had expected. There were some rough, corrugated and rocky sections, and lots of badly cambered corners, but we had seen it worse. The track was narrow, but the scenery quite varied. At times, it runs along ridge tops, and there were distant views through the trees. There were sections of the Livistona Palm species that were special to this area. There were lots of eucalypts in blossom.

We stopped in an area along the track that was signed as a designated wood collection area, and gathered firewood, tossing it up onto our roof racks.

Reached the campground at 3.30pm. It has taken us nearly two hours to drive the section from King Edward River.

RHS green dot is corner by airstrip; LHS green dot is campground. Track appears faintly between them.

It was a (brief) financial relief to be back in a National Parks campground. With our Seniors Concession Cards, it cost us $4.50 per night, per person. We could have a campfire in the cement fire rings provided; fires were only allowed between 4pm and 8am, and had to be properly extinguished outside of those times. This was, in the Dry Season, a very fire-prone area, and a long way from any fire fighting assistance.

Mitchell Falls camp

There were composting pit toilets, and a specified water collection point, in the creek near the campground. This point was fairly well upstream from the camping area. After we had set up camp, M and I walked across to check this out, and bring back a couple of containers of water to use for things like washing up.

I remembered from last time here, that the noise from the joy flight helicopters was very intrusive, but was pleased to find now that they seemed to be on some sort of curfew – no really early morning start ups.

We were all very weary after the long, rough trip in.

John was still fiddling with the kerosene lamp. He was now fairly sure he’d put something back, wrongly, last time he had it apart. In the messing about, he managed to drop it. The glass broke, and now there was definitely no functioning lamp!

Due to tiredness, and lack of light, we had a really early night.