An Account of Exploring the Kimberley
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An account of exploring the Kimberley (story told by Dan & Emma)
From our drop point we would walk out in a big 10 day loop, arriving back at the waterfall to replenish supplies, and then continue on back to Mitchell Falls and the Mitchell Plateau airstrip. The mood around the campfire that night at the top of the waterfall was very animated, with high spirits and much anticipation of the days ahead.
We arose bright and early the next morning and set off down to the stream below the falls. The plunge pool at the base of the falls was idyllic! It was deep and dark and lined with pandanus, and contained pristine and clear water and unspoilt nature at its finest! We lingered for a while before continuing down the rocky stream bed. Long deep pools occurred at intervals, separated by rocky sections comprising broken boulders, testament to the power of the wet season flows.
As the day began to warm up it became clear that Dave was suffering from a bout of the flu. The first day of walking saw us cover only 2.5km from the chopper drop, with frequent rest stops. That night, while camping in a pretty little grassed clearing by the creek, it was decided that Dave and Rachel would remain in the general area and meet us back at the food drop in 10 days. This was a big disappointment for them, but better than pushing on and risking aggravating the ailment. Emma and I would push on as planned, with the party's GPS and EPIRB.
The next ten days were a fantastic mix of deeply dissected plateaux and spectacular gorges. The rugged Kimberley scenery was breathtaking and wild in the extreme. The walking was often hard, as crevices in the sandstone were often filled with vine forest or spinifex, and we carried heavy packs. Green ants were an ever-present pest and just about every tree or bush harboured a nest of these easily agitated insects.
Finding water in this country was never a problem, even in June, as most of the streams still flowed, if only at a trickle. We planned to move away from water only to cross between streams, a distance of no more than 15 km. This was usually done in the early morning, when it was relatively cool. Sometimes, however, the walls of the gorge containing the stream we were following became sheer, and we were forced to climb up onto the plateau to avoid swimming with the less desirable reptilian inhabitants of the area. We were always weary of estuarine crocodiles, and only swam in cascades or small pools where we could be assured that we were alone. They can be found even in the fresh water reaches above the tidal influence. Fortunately, we saw few salties. Their freshwater cousins were quite abundant, however. At night after turning in we would often see one or several sets of pink reflective eyes in the beams of our torches.
Finding campsites was generally not a problem. Our priority when choosing a site was that it be near a source of water - camping away from water was not really an option because of the heat. Water also provided a plentiful source of fish to supplement our supplies, and sometimes also freshwater prawns. Along the rivers, suitable sand-banks and rock platforms cropped up frequently. Since the prospect of rain is pretty much zero this time of year, we didn't bring a tent and slept under the stars. We did bring some protection from biting insects; a mosquito net held up with tent poles, which we affectionately called the "Mega Mozzie Dome".
Apart from the trickle of water and ever-present frogs, night-time was generally very quiet. We felt a little saddened that this land, which for tens of thousands of years was alive with the voices and activity of people is now silent. This feeling was especially strong when quietly contemplating each of the many decorated caves and rocky overhangs we encountered. Much of the art we found was faded and obviously quite old. We came across representative panels of both the Bradshaw and Wandjina styles. Often Wandjinas were painted right over the top of the older Bradshaw style. Some Wandjinas were still in a fine state of preservation and we spent hours at guessing how long it might have been since people lived and painted in this area. It might have been as late as the 1940's!
Our food budget consisted of staples such as flour, rice, and dehydrated potato. We relied on catching fish for protein - a gamble that paid off handsomely as the local fish had never encountered a fisherman before (well not since the original inhabitants fished these waters). In some pools, fishing was hardly a challenge, with a willing punter climbing on the line no matter what adorned the hook. A variety of herbs and spices, and some dehydrated vegetables flavoured our meals. Snacks included cordial crystals for a sweet drink, and a limited supply of carob bars.
The weather was predicably fine and sunny. Daytime temperatures typically reached the high twenties. This made the walking a bit sweaty, especially considering that our food-loaded packs weighed over 20kg early on, but generally quite pleasant. In contrast, the nights were a lot cooler than we expected, sometimes uncomfortably so. Some internet-based research preceding the trip suggested that we might expect night-time minimum temperatures of 10-12 degrees. Consequently, our sleeping kit consisted of a couple of light Polarfleece blankets, a couple of inflatable mattresses and some thermal clothing. As it transpired, the whole top end of Australia experienced below average temperatures while we were there, with night-time temperatures on the Mitchell Plateau of down to 2 degrees C. After some chilly nights, we discovered that rock platforms could be relied on to radiate heat well into the night, and so provided excellent refuges from the cold.
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