Beyond Mt Barnet we turned off the Gibb River Road, heading up the Kalumburu Road, stopping briefly at Drysdale Station for fuel. We bumped into Simon and Hilary (110 Around Oz) there for a quick catch-up as they were heading back down and soon enough we were into the worst corrugation we have encountered yet. It took over two hours of bone-juddering driving to the turn off to the Mitchell Plateau, and this section of road overtook the Steep Point road as worst road ever. One forlorn figure, about an hour north from Drysdale sat next to a trailer with a broken chassis waiting for a recovery truck. We couldn’t help and pressed on with the dashboard shaking so much the windscreen wipers and indicator lights were randomly coming on.
The campsite on the King Edward river was just beyond a shallow rocky water crossing an it was an oasis at the end of an arduous day’s driving. The kids were straight in the river, a stone’s throw from a very spacious lightly wooded campsite.
We spent the next day exploring two fabulous cultural sites with some spectacular artwork at Munurru. The two sites are approx. 5km apart and known as the Warnmarri and Wandjina complexes. Both have extensive examples of rock art, easily accessible on rock faces on overhangs, under ledges or in caves. Both sites are rocky outcrops sitting in lightly wooded but very grassy landscape and following the paths around the rock makes it all easy to find. There are eight different styles of rock art in the Kimberley region but I was particularly looking forward to seeing the Tasselled figures, which as well as being one of the oldest styles also is very rich in detail.
At the Wandjina complex we found echidnas, possums, turtles, and even thylacine peering out from their hiding places on the walls. There were human figures too and an interesting hand stencil with only four fingers. The highlights of the Wandjina site though were a relief of the owl-Wandjina, figures wearing headdresses, and the water-bringing deities peering out from a whitewashed wall, mouthless heads clustered together with large dark eyes.
The Warnmarri complex had a huge relief in one cave of two colourful brolgas, positioned head to head. Many tasselled figures danced around on a number of the rocks and a secondary burial site here added further interest. The caves that the people used to inhabit were low but would have been cool and dry, and nowadays are only occupied by kangaroos and wallabies hiding from the midday heat.
The trip to Mitchell Falls was slow due to the road conditions, which incidentally were much better than expected due to the fact the grader had been through a week prior. It still meant a 2 hour drive to cover the 80km safely up the Mitchell Plateau through the recently burnt palm forests.
We all walked out to the Mitchell Falls, declining the opportunity to return by helicopter. Little Merten and Big Merten Falls provide convenient stopping points to jump into the water and cool off on what was a 32 degree day. Both also offer further opportunities to see more rock art. At Little Merten there were a couple of sites, including a wall frieze of ancient animals and objects, sitting behind the waterfall in the shade. Just before Big Merten Falls another wall above the river appears to depict a battle, amongst other things, in incredible detail, again thousands of years old. It is quite astounding to think how the artwork has been produced that can endure such long periods of time when exposed to the ravages of nature that are particularly harsh in this area between torrential downfall in the wet season, to draining relentless heat of the dry season.
Big Merten Falls are a precipitous drop next to the footpath, plunging almost 100m into the gorge below and getting close to peer over the edge demands control of any wobbly knees.
Due to the fact the “Wet” was not so wet, we found we could cross the Mitchell Falls at the top, wading through the feeder pools, reducing the overall distance we needed to walk. The best views were offered from a vantage point on the cliffs on the other side, where the falls into each pool could be marvelled at.
The second pool is a sacred site where no-one is allowed to swim, but without ropes it would be a challenge to get there anyway and below that the waters are infested with saltwater crocodiles, so we were content to stick to the easily accessible water holes without crocs.