The Real Deal
by Brian Churchman
Now it’s time to get serious.
No more pussyfooting around with these casual weekend getaways and their fancy accoutrements. Pavement? Hrmph. Showers!? Sha-as if. Food?? Nope. No food.
The following is a brief layout of what it takes to get to the Mitchell Plateau in the remote northwest of the Kimberley, and why it is worth the effort and time it takes to get there.
Mitchell River National Park encompasses 115,300 hectares of cliffs, rainforest, rivers and of course waterfalls.
The main attraction is Mitchell Falls itself. Cascading tier to tier, leaving inviting pools at each of the four cliff tops, Mitchell Falls is an astounding natural wonder tucked away far from the world of bustle and hustle and worth every river crossing and bathroom break in the bush on the long trip in.
To reach the park, one must have a very capable 4WD vehicle, patience and proper supplies. The trip must be done long enough after the wet season that the King Edward River is not in Wash Away Tourists mode and the track is in “good” condition as reported by the Drysdale Homestead.
The Drysdale Homestead is the last outpost of humanity you’ll pass, and the perfect place to pick up any and all supplies you will need for the next few days in the bush. It is located 60km north of the Gibb River Rd along the Kalumburu Rd, which continues north to the Mitchell Plateau Rd which in turn runs west 85km to the Mitchell Falls campground. In total, you will be driving 407km from Derby, or 240km from the Wyndham/Kununurra intersection in the order listed above: Gibb River Rd to Kalumburu Rd north to Mitchell Plateau Rd west to the actual park.
There are also scenic flights from Drysdale Homestead, but that’s not what this trip is about, right?
Do not miss the posted firewood collection area just before the national park.
Now, assuming you have reached the camping area and settled in and roasted a marshmallow or eliminated some spare Tooheys News, let’s move on to the next day and digging the delicious fruit out of this hard husk of a trip.
…Honestly, though, isn’t getting there 60% of the fun and 50% of the memory?
Next day. Punamii-unpuu time.
Punamii-unpuu is the aboriginal name for the falls, and honestly, they definitely deserve to be called something more creative than “Mitchell”, another tiring European moniker strewn willy nilly over a landscape that needed no more naming. But I digress.
The hike to the falls is 8.6km return and will take around 6 hours depending on how much playtime you invest along the way. It is an easy place to lose track of time.
Little Mertens Falls has plenty of small pools up top to relax in, and at the bottom you can pass behind the waterfall into a cave decorated with ancient paintings.
Big Mertens Falls drop into an amazing gorge, and though not as large as Mitchell Falls, provide some amazing photography and a hair-raising portion of the hike. Always be careful as you move among the rocks and along the river, as there are constantly drops and easy ways to get injured if you aren’t watching your step.
When you reach Mitchell Falls, there is a steep trail down from the official picture snapping spot where the helicopter ride people run to. Head all the way down, passing the many tiers to stand in the sun under the powerful spray of the falls. You are a long way from “civilization”, and it is glorious. This is why the Wunambal people hold this land to be sacred, and why you are asked to respect their laws while you are here.
Enjoy the trip in, enjoy the playground that is the Mitchell Plateau, and don’t forget to see all of the other secret spots along the other walks available.