Thursday, 18 July 2013

Mitchell Plateau and Falls

Around 25 June for 3 nights

I was over being sick, having a sick family and being in a remote place.  At lunch (Drysdale river Station does the best burgers!) I said, “hands up if you want to just head to Kununurra, (just me), hands up if you want to go to Mitchell Falls.” I was out-voted.  So glad I was as this part of the trip was the highlight!

We camped beside the King Edward River which was a beautiful campsite next to a beautiful stretch of river.  We contemplated staying here and doing a day trip to Mitchell Falls but we’re glad we pushed on. Although the campground at Mitchell Falls wasn’t as nice as King Edward River it was lovely to rush our walk to the Mitchell Falls.

While lots of people told us how great the Mitchell Falls were, we hadn’t heard anything about the drive there.  So we were staggered when we were on the Mitchell Plateau that we drove through at least 50km of palm forest.  Not rainforest, palm forest where the only tree you see was the livastonia palms.  It was a magnificent forest; one I’ll always remember.

As Hugo had been so sick, and as people had told us the walk was long and hard, we decided to fork out money and come back in a helicopter from the falls.  This decision meant we wouldn’t be taking to the air for the 6 minute flight above the famous bee-shaped domes at Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungle).

The walk was just beautiful, easy and thoroughly enjoyable. Just 20 minutes into the walk (for us, with a recalcitrant 3 yo) were the beautiful Little Mertens Falls.  Anywhere else along the Gibb, this would be a place to stop in its own right.  The falls dropped down into a big water hole but the best bit was that Isobel got to realize her dream.  There’s a path half way down the hill that takes you over and under rocks to get in behind the waterfall and in a cave.  AND the cave is filled with amazing Aboriginal art!!  How special was this place.

Maiden hair ferns grew in the cave, you could get the cooling mist of the water fall and I took a really special photo of Isobel.  She went out further than anyone else, drank in the view and experience and then did a naturally big sigh, “I’m here.”  It was beautiful to watch her have this moment of accomplishment and joy without her knowing she was being observed.

Of course the perfect moment was shattered less than a minute later!  A misunderstanding between Simon and Isobel ended in shouting and tears.  Oh well.

Just downstream was another picturesque swimming hole and across the river was more Aboriginal rock art.  We should’ve rockhopped across the river rather than just being content with seeing it from the opposite bank.  There was a painting of a thylacine there!  Fortunately someone has told us we’ll see a thylacine painted at Ubirr at Kakadu too. Phew.

From here Big Mertens Falls dropped into a mouth-dropping gorge.  A “Mothers -hold –your- kids- hands, kind of drop.  It was simply spectacular.  We sat down on a rock, ate our mandarines and apples and just enjoyed the site.  It looked ancient and you could just see the Mitchell River at the mouth of the gorge. 

Before we knew it we were at the ‘big’ one!  Simon went exploring to get a view of the top of the Mitchell Falls and called us over when he realised it was all safe and easy.  We were there in late June but the power of the water was still something to behold.  There was a swollen, dead kangaroo in the second pool just doing circles because of the white water and currents – it wasn’t going over the edge any time soon.

We crossed the river carefully as it’s a pretty strong current, and then checked out some more vantage points of the falls. Spectacular. 

Before we knew it, it was 1.30pm and we were lined up watching our helicopter land. How exciting was this!  We handed all our bags, hankies, hats, camera lenses, everything to the pilot to be stowed away so absolutely nothing could accidentally fall out of the helicopter and interfere with its ability to fly.  I sat in the front as I wanted a door (!) and Hugo and Simon sat at the open doors with Otto and Isobel sitting between them.  What an adventure.  Would you believe our camera ran out of batteries before we even left the ground?

Hugo used the microphone to let us know ‘This is the most awesome experience of my life.” The pilot got a chuckle from that.  We flew over the falls so all of us got another great view of them, and then we followed the Mitchell River down to the Little Mitchell Falls which is where the river becomes tidal.  From the air we still couldn’t see where the national park ended in the west, we could see where the Mitchell entered the sea up near Admiralty Gulf and then the helicopter took us up the Western Gorge to another little waterfall. We skipped over Mitchell Falls again, rounded a hill and landed back at camp.  We couldn’t believe how close the campground was to the falls! 

The whole day is one of the highlights of the trip – the three falls, amazing scenery, rock art and then a helicopter ride!  Who could ask for more. 

But there was!  I’d asked the ranger the day before whether he was going to do a slide show so he did one that night.  He is incredibly knowledgeable about Aboriginal Rock Art and has worked with Graeme Welsh and archeologists from UNE. He said one day they found a grinding stone but because it was so heavy they put it above the floodline and left it on a rock ledge.  Months later he got a phone call from the university who had finished doing their lengthy analysis of the other objects they’d collected and a sample from the grinding stone. They asked him to collect it and send it to them as it turned out to be much, much older than they’d expected!  I guess they’re not talking about the age of the rock, but how long ago it was used as a grinding stone.  It was a fascinating and insightful talk that covered rock art and then plenty of photos of the area in the wet season.  Awesome! 

The next morning we were talking to the ranger (again).  Simon said he hadn't seen this much helicopter activity in a national park since an episode of Skippy.  One ranger laughed, the other one didn't!  

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