Overnight stays: Town Caravan Park, Kununurra (2 nights); Lake Argyle Caravan Park, Lake Argyle (3 nights); Mary Pool Rest Area, Mueller Range
As we left the Territory, satisfied with everything the Top End offered, we had mixed expectations about what The Kimberley could throw at us. I was most excited: I knew so little about it, but had expectations higher than our longitude, and Loz laid out that, “I reckon The Kimberley will be overrated.” Liv didn’t particularly care, as long as there was opportune time to eat ice cream and watch some tele.
Our frustrating battery-charging saga reared its ugly head for the third time as we left NT, so we headed straight for Kununurra and booked in for yet another fix as soon as we could.
We would have to wait another day, so decided to check out the ‘mini Bungle Bungles‘, of which I can’t remember the actual name of. Anyway, they’re on the edge of town and offer a small glimpse into what The Kimberley could offer, with some nice rock formations and views.
That night we drove up to Kelly’s Knob (yes, that’s actually the name) for a stunning sunset overlooking the town and into the infinite distance where controlled burning enhanced the colourful horizon.
It was there we ran into James, Brigette and Sam, whom we had met by chance at least twice before on our travels (once at Lawn Hill, and again at Mataranka Homestead). They are the only other single-child family we’ve met on the road, and we discovered we’re on a similar timeline with them due back in Orange for Christmas (Newy for us). We got to know them a little and agreed we’d naturally cross paths again before too long.
With the WomBatmobile in at the doctor we weren’t going to sit around and mope, so hired a car and sped out to El Questro for the day. It’s one of the more popular parts of the East Kimberley and we knew very little about it.
I had picked a couple of spots that were 2WD accessible that I calculated we could do in time to get back to Kununurra in time to pickup the motorhome: Zebedee Springs and Emma Gorge.
I remember some bloke telling me a while back about some springs up at El Questro, “definitely worth checking out if you’re up that way.”
They’re totally different from the other springs we have visited along the trip so far. While Innot Hot Springs was a bunch of small puddles in the sand, Mataranka a beautiful pool, and Bitter Springs a much bigger pool with a bit of flow, Zebedee was a narrow warmed creek with a bunch of layered rock pools where you could choose your own to relax in.
We picked a spot pretty close to the entry point and found it a beautiful, clear, private and relaxing spot for our morning cuppa.
Despite being winter, it was about 35’C in the middle of the day when we arrived at the entry to Emma Gorge. Again, we knew very little about this place, but after a quick browse at the Visitors Centre we discovered it was all about a challenging walk through the gorge to a pretty pool at the end.
The walk was pretty rough on the ankles, and with sweat beading down every crevice in the high heat, nothing could’ve been more attractive than the incredible pool awaiting us, protected by the highest of cliffs dropping a gentle waterfall into the crystal waters.
At this moment, this place exceeded every swimming hole we had dived into; it was simply breathtaking. And it was literally breathtaking – almost entirely surrounded by high rock cliffs, it only gets a couple of hours of sun per day, so was on the cold side of Antarctic temperature. But with the outside temp so hot, and the challenging walk, you couldn’t have asked for much more.
We well and truly outstayed our welcome, both in and around the pool. Loz and I looked at each other and knew were onto something special, and if this was the sort of thing The Kimberley could offer, we were in for a treat.
The Bungle Bungles
The Kimberley is one of those places that can be seen by pretty much any mode of transport. By boat you get access to unimaginable places of beauty, where a sneeze would reel in barramundi; by road and foot you get to infinitely explore and feel the hundreds of kms of corrugation; and by air you get a feel of the vastness and breadth this massive part of Australia offers.
Knowing we wouldn’t be able to get the WomBatmobile into Purnululu National Park (4WD only) our hand was pretty much dealt that we would do the Bungle Bungles by air.
Up at sparrow’s fart, and we were in the air just after the sun, in a tiny 6-berth plane, flying south towards these massively odd shaped rock mountains.
En-route we cruised over Lake Argyle, the biggest freshwater lake in somewhere (Australia? Southern Hemisphere? The World?), which was pretty and huge, holding several Sydney harbour’s worth of water.
After about an hour we started to see a swarm of dome-topped lumps on the horizon; the Bungle Bungles. And as we neared we got a perspective only available by air, of how bloody massive these things are, and an idea as to how far they span – there are hundreds of them, beautifully misaligned in a patch of land so far from anywhere where even Bear Grylls wouldn’t dare.
Our return path was a beauty too, passing over the stunning Carr-Boyd Ranges and world’s largest diamond mine.
As much as I would’ve loved to have also explore the Bungles by foot, doing it above ground was a fantastic experience and a beautiful way to experience these unique mountains and gorges.
If there’s one place nine out of ten Grey Nomads recommend, it would have to be the caravan park at Lake Argyle. But their recommendation always comes with a caveat – book or arrive early, otherwise you will miss out. You will be stuck in the longest line of caravans all fighting for limited powered sites, leaving you stranded with the suckers in unpowered overflow.
And so the legend of this park grows and grows as more and more Nomads share their stories of booking months ahead so they don’t miss out.
We have trouble knowing where we’ll be in ten minutes, let alone in three months, so we took the advice and decided to arrive as early as possible expecting to line up for hours, only to be sent to the overflow where we’d be more than happy on an unpowered site.
Arriving at around 11:30am we were surprised to see quite a few empty powered sites, and were even more surprised when we found no line whatsoever. And when we came to a halt assuming our chances were slim to none, you could only imagine our surprise when we were allocated a powered site for as long as we liked. So after all the expected drama, checking-in was no different to any other caravan park along the way – no need to book, and no need to arrive particularly early.
It’s a ripping caravan park; one of the best, topped off with the infamous infinity pool overlooking Lake Argyle. The sites are shady and spacious, and as is often the case, the unpowered sites come with a superior view, in this case, of the lake.
We spent most of our time at the pool, swimming, baking, and taking in the glorious view you just couldn’t tire of.
As the sun set each day, a bloke with a guitar would play a set of originals about traveling and The Kimberley, while crowds sat around with the spectacular views as a backdrop, drinking beers and eating enough snacks to ruin dinner. It really was a special place, and the songs were not only catchy, but hit the heartstrings of the scores of travellers listening in, knowing we were all incredibly fortunate to be on the road and in this remarkable part of Australia.
The party would then move to the pub/restaurant where the fella would punch out some ripping covers from the Wiggles to Dylan, while patrons chewed down dinner.
On our last day I decided we’d been lazy enough, so led us on a dusk bike ride to a sunset spot labelling the views as ‘spectacular’ on the local information sheet. Sounded like one not to be missed, so we braved the steep hills up and down, rode as far as we could on the gravel detour, and then walked the remaining few hundred metres to the top of a mound where a few four-wheel-drivers had already arrived.
The view over the lake was okay, and the view of the sunset was about as good as eating tofu – you know it’s good for you, but it really is quite boring.
Whoever writes these information sheets needs to rethink their language. Not only was the place ordinary, it’s quite a task to reach, and as the weirdly unexpected smell of rain crossed the lake (it never really eventuated) with darkness falling, we hammered home, struggling up the steepest of hills, returning home from the biggest sunset fail of the trip.
There isn’t a lot to see along the road from Kununurra to Derby/Broome – places like Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing you pull up, fill up, and get the hell out before some Wolfe Creek-esq creep offers to fix your car, and next thing you know you’re crucified to a wall in shackles, screaming for your life.
There was one place of interest I had plotted on our map, titled China Wall. On the outskirts of Halls Creek, the small brown signs direct you south until the most inconspicuous side of the road sign informs you that you’ve made it to the entrance. We unknowingly drove straight past it on the nastiest of gravel roads for a few kms before giving up and returning to the highway, only to spot the small sign on the way back. There you have to open a gate and drive down the hill to park. A short walk and you can spot an out-of-place escarpment slightly resembling the Great Wall of China.
If we had our time again we wouldn’t bother detouring a few kms for this, but when there isn’t much to see for about a thousand kms you’ll take pretty much anything.