Western Australia & Gibb River Road East
After leaving Litchfield, it was also time to leave the Northern Territory - for now. We passed through Katherine again and spent the night in Timber Creek where we had to use up any fruit and veg before crossing the border the next day. It felt more like we were entering a different country instead of just crossing a state border! W.A impressed us straight away and our first night was spent at Lake Argyle. This is the biggest man-made lake in Australia and it is just as beautiful as it is big. After doing a fairly short but stunning hike to view The Ord River we were treated to a sunset concert by a muso called Steve Case. He is based at Lake Argyle for the season like many performers are in popular locations such as Lake Argyle. We only stayed the one night in Lake Argyle, however, if we ever come back I would like to do the 3 day Kayak trip up the Ord River, however we are now entering the much anticipated Kimberley region and have lots to explore.
After stocking up food supplies in Kununurra, we ventured on towards the famous Gibb River Road. This is something Mark has been waiting for. It is an unsealed road that cuts through the Kimberleys East to West and is notorious for tough corrugated roads that shake your bones, pop your tyres and ruin your car. Why would you take this road I hear you ask? Because it is also renowned for it's beautiful scenery and many stunning gorges. It is a hikers equivalent to a pub-crawl, except pubs are replaced with beautiful gorges and stunning waterholes. The wet season didn't deliver as much rain as usual, so most of the waterfalls are only a trickle, however the swimming is still fresh and irresistible after hiking in the heat. Even when you know you are sharing the water with freshwater crocs.
Our first stop on The Gibb River Road was El Questro Station. It is a cattle station that also caters for tourists - LOTS of tourists. You can easily see why it is popular, as it has some spectacular hikes and lots of activities. On our first night, we were lucky enough to be right next to a family who also had two young girls of similar ages. The kids had a ball that night and us adults enjoyed some grown-up company around the fire as well.
Our first activity at El Questro was visiting Zebedee Springs. This was a lovely oasis where we could bathe in 30C bliss! Next was crossing our deepest water crossing yet which we were told was 800cm deep. I let out a sigh of relief when we safely made it across, even though our car is more than capable. My concern came more from the fact that if you get stuck, you can't really get out due to crocs. Eeek. The adventure didn't end there as we then hiked into El Questro Gorge. The first part of this hike was fairly tame and finished at a lovely swimming spot. However, we didn't stop there. To get to the second swimming hole, you had to walk through the water, holding your gear above your head and then rock climb up to carry on. I wasn't overly confident with my ankle still recovering, however, we all made it unscathed. Now the real rock scrambling began and I must admit that this was probably the most physically demanding hike we have ever done with the girls. It was not considerably long, but involved lifting yourself up over huge boulders while hiking up inside the gorge. We even encountered a huge olive python and both girls had various knocks and falls along the way but nothing serious so all in all it was a lot of fun. The return hike was much quicker as we seemed to have improved on our rock climbing - that, and the fact that the girls wanted to get back to the campsite as they were screening an outdoor movie that evening (is that glamping or what?).
Before leaving El Questro we did the hike to Emma Gorge which is stunning. I really loved the hike out to the gorge. The rocks had these amazing patterns in them. It was like hiking through a natural art gallery. The swim at the end was fresh, but it also had some thermal water flowing into it.
Now it was time to leave the bitumen behind and enter the rough part of The Gibb. First we passed over the Pentecost River which currently is just a puddle. Mark was a bit disappointed it wasn't a proper river crossing but I felt it was just as beautiful as the backdrop to the crossing is The Cockburn range. Not long after crossing the Pentecost, our UHF aerial snapped. Our first car accessory to fail due to corrugations.
That evening we stayed at Ellenbrae Station where the promise of fresh scones in the morning was very inviting (and they didn't disappoint). It's funny the things that start to excite you when doing a trip like this. Baking is one of them. Grass is another. Seeing a Woolworths or Coles is pretty exciting, as is a liquor store. Bonus points if it's actually open. You also soon learn that "best-before" or "use-by" dates are really just a guide. Having a shower with warm water is no longer taken for granted and dust is just a part of life. If your clothes stay clean for more than 5 minutes you are doing well. If the water tastes nice I get pretty excited.
Next was onto The Mitchell Plateau. We had to deviate off The Gibb and head up The Kulumburu Road. More corrugations. Finally we arrived at the Munurra Campground where we based ourselves while exploring Mitchell Falls which we did the next day. We started the drive towards Mitchell Falls before the sun was up so we could try and hike before the heat of the day. While hiking to the falls there is a constant noise of helicopters overhead as it is an extremely popular tourist destination and it appears hiking both to and from the falls is not as popular as catching a one-way flight and walking back or vice versa. Again, these falls were not actually falling, but we still managed to swim at the top and the scenery is stunning.
Visiting the aboriginal artwork near the Munurra was fascinating and exciting as you have to make your way around some amazing rock formations and look for the artwork yourself. I did manage to purchase a book that explained the artwork at Drysdale Station which was great.
It was at Munurra campground that Mark discovered a couple of mounts holding our bash plates had completely snapped off. Another victim thanks to the corrugations. We now venture back down The Gibb with no bash plates as Mark has had to take them off. If they had happened to come off while driving, the consequences could have been disastrous.