Mitchell Plateau & Mitchell Falls En-route Description
King Edward River Crossing - Mungara
After leaving the Kalumburu road there is a short drive to the King Edward River (Mungara) Crossing. This crossing can be treacherous early in the tourist season especially around April/early May as it can be deep and rocky and should be approached with respect as a number of vehicles have found out over the years.
Successive graders have dug the crossing out to deeper than it appears at first sight and it should be walked first before attempting to cross, a good excuse for a swim.
There is no risk of crocodile attack here but you must be careful walking across the crossing as the rocks can be slippery. Usually the crossing becomes much less challenging as time passes after the wet and the water levels drop, around May/June.
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Munurru – the King Edward River rock art Galleries
In crossing the King Edward River you travel from Ngarinyin country into Wunambal country. The crossing is the border between the two language groups so this is the gateway to the complex and intriguing culture of the Wunambal people.
All this area is known to the Wunambal and Ngarinyin people as Munurru. Munurru is an extremely ancient and pivotal place in the mythologies, histories, stories and rituals of the people of the north Kimberley. It has ‘Dreaming’, ritual and deep symbolic connections to many other mythic countries of the north Kimberley.
Near the King Edward River crossing there are some large sandstone boulders, spaced apart for miles and miles in clusters. These sandstone boulders, consisting of so many different colours, are positioned in interesting formations and shapes.
The sandstone here is part of the King Leopold Sandstone complex, which underlies most of the Kimberley block. There is a track leading into these boulders where the 1st main Aboriginal rock art gallery is located.
This is ‘Bundjamanumanu’ the place where the Wandjinas ‘sat down’. A lot of these stories are the closely guarded secrets of Wunambal elders but the elders have told us that the first art site across the river, Bundjamanumanu, is the result of a tribal battle. The Wandjinas walked there after the fight carrying those huge boulders. Then when they placed the boulders there they sat down and camped and decided to stay there and paint themselves onto the rock faces. Their spirits remain there today in the paintings that represent them.
Note: Please be careful not to touch or rub against any of these paintings as they can be damaged very easily. They are a priceless heritage and they should be protected for future generations of visitors. Children should be supervised by adults at all times. Even the dust from people walking close to the art can damage it over time. Human breath and body fat is highly corrosive also.
Try to stay a respectful distance from art on rock surfaces, think of these places as being similar to the ritual places of our own culture such as the altars of cathedrals. Never interfere with any art or burial sites, there are very high penalties for desecration and all Wunambal cultural sites are protected under legislation.
The art sites at Munurru are the best examples of north Kimberley rock art to be seen anywhere in the Kimberley that are open for travellers to visit and we all must strive to protect the integrity of these magical places for the future. If too much damage is done to these places the Traditional Owners and heritage conservation stakeholders will be well within their rights to close them off completely. Think of future visitors & thank you for your care!
There are many different styles of North Kimberley rock art including the famous Wandjina paintings with large rounded heads and large round eyes staring mysteriously out at the visitor.
There are also the ancient Gwion-Gwion paintings (often called ‘Bradshaws’ by some people), usually smaller and very well constructed human figures showing ancient peoples dancing in ceremony, hunting and posing in many positions, sometimes with spears, throwing sticks (boomerangs) and other implements. The Gwion art has been the subject of many speculations and theories regarding its origins in the last 100 years but the Wunambal people say emphatically that these are their ancestors from long ago in the Dreaming, illustrating the ritual dances that remain until today.
Even older still are some animal and plant paintings that can be seen in the area, known as Naturalistic Animal Period paintings (Chaloupka et al). This style of rock art is also found across the north to Arnhem Land and beyond (Walsh et al call these ‘Irregular Infill Animal Period’ paintings; we find the nomenclature of Chaloupka more apt and less cumbersome in this case). These depict the animal and plant totemic heroes whose spirits inhabit the surrounds to ensure that the populations of these important Aboriginal resources remain intact. Some art experts have speculated that these ancient works of art are the oldest in the world – we can say safely that they rank amongst the oldest and greatest examples of the world’s ancient expressive ritualistic and mythic art.
The paintings at Munurru have survived the damage of time well – some paint is flaking off in sections and some old pictures are very faint or no longer obvious. The artwork that is visible is intricate and immersive. Spiritual creatures of the Earth, Silhouettes of people, animals that were hunted and valued.The rocks are artworks in themselves, delicately balanced on top of platforms, and sculptured by wind and water over time. There is also a 2nd rock art site (featuring ancient Kimberley art) located near the King Edward River Campsite. Ask the Campground Caretakers for Directions.
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King Edward River Campsite at Munurru
There are 2 large camping areas at the King Edward River, which is managed by the Department of Environment and Conservation. There are Toilet blocks, volunteer campground caretakers on site throughout the peak tourist months, No BBQ’s, very good swimming and fishing spot right next to the river, Camp fires okay, Camp fees apply. Campsite is only a short drive away from both of the main rock art galleries. Information and further directions can be sort with the caretakers.
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Miyarli (pron:"me-are-lee") - Lawley Valley Lookout
After leaving the King Edward River (Munurru) area the track starts to climb into the Mitchell Plateau country. A large deep valley comes up first so be careful on the “jump-ups” at either end of the valley.
From then the country is dominated by the iconic Palm Forests. Some people have described the drive as like driving into Jurassic Park. After around 30 kms there is an open area with plenty of parking space on the right where there is a great view north looking up the Lawley River valley. It is an impressive vista. This country is known as Miyarli, the upper reaches of the Lawley River which runs north into Port Warrender and Admiralty Gulf. Miyarli is a good place to take a short break before continuing on along the track.
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Ngauwudu, Mitchell Plateau
After leaving Miyarli lookout there is another valley with steep jump-ups to negotiate driving steadily in low gear, use 4wd to spread the weight and reduce stress on the rear differential.
These jump-ups are perfectly safe, just be mindful of oncoming traffic. If you haven’t already done so, collect some firewood along the road if you need it – be sure to park off the track to allow traffic through.
Note: It is illegal to collect firewood once you have entered national park areas.
Approximately another 30 kms from the lookout you arrive in the heartland of Ngauwudu or the Mitchell Plateau. Continue along the main road past the access track for Kandiwell community on the left (No thru road) and cross the “Ungolan” creek then continue up the hill to the crossroads.
There is a large sign post here to direct you.
On the right is the Mitchell Plateau airstrip; On the left is Kandiwell community, and also a private tour operation safari camp (bookings essential). Please note: This road is a private road.
If you go straight ahead you will reach the Mitchell Falls turn-off, about 1 ½ kms along from the crossroads. The turn-off to Mitchell falls is well signposted, and on the left of the road.
If you continue north along the road past the Mitchell Falls turn-off for 20kms, you will reach the the turn-off to 'Aunayu' or 'Surveyors pool'. This is also well sign posted.
If you go past the turn-off to Surveyor’s Pool, still heading north, after about a 10 to 15 minute drive, you will come to a sweeping lookout across Port Warrender and Walsh Point.
If you are more adventurous you can push on to Walsh Point.
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This is the home of the Ngauwudu people - a well set up aboriginal community along a private access road (no admittance). PUNAAMI UNPUU, the Mitchell Falls in english, is a part of their homelands. NGAUWUDU, the Mitchell Plateau in english is also a part of their backyard. Their people have lived in the region for tens of thousands of years. They welcome visitors to their country, and hope that you enjoy and appreciate these magical lands.
The Kandiwal community is planning on building a small school, and a medical clinic. The Kandiwal Kids are a growing bunch of bush kids who just happen to live in the most beautiful part of the world. Their story is a story of change,of learning and of hope.
The community has a hybrid solar power system in place for electricity. Their food and supplies arrive each week via the mail plane. Some of the community members (including some of the children) work as tour guides down at Mitchell Falls.
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Punamii Unpuu - Mitchell Falls
The Mitchell Falls region of the Mitchell Plateau is very beautiful sandstone country. The area is well signed and the walking trails are very well marked. There is a camping area near the Mitchell falls carpark, with a ranger in residence, toilets & showers, as well as scenic flights available.
There are a lot of caves and overhangs beside deep pools & waterfalls. A short walk to ‘Little Mertens Falls’ will take you to a view of a cascading waterfall and rock pool surrounded by beautiful rainforest trees and cool overhangs. Further along this walk trail you will find a large cave with a lot of late Gwion stick figures. The Gwion (Bradshaw) art viewable in this region depicts file snakes and animals of the area, the process of making spears and how to use them, plus what the different spear points looked like. Paintings that were added on top of the Gwion figures (at a later period) are images such as initiation handprint stencils and more contemporaneous art forms from more recent periods.
A walk further along this trail for about 35 minutes through Spinifex plains, past rocky creek beds, and sandstone outcrops, eventually takes you to the top of ‘Big Mertens Falls”, with a view of a spectacular gorge and cliff face, that leads down through a narrow gorge and into the Mitchell River system.
From here you can follow the signs to Punamii Unpuu, Mitchell Falls, which is about another 5 - 10 minute walk. Here 1000’s of tonnes of water rushes over the top of the cliff face and cascades down in a series of large waterfalls. There are basically four tiers of the falls that can best be seen from the opposite vantage points looking back at the falls. Do be very careful as any slip on cliff edges could be fatal. Nevertheless the great views, colours and intense ‘energies’ of Punamii Unpuu lead most people to call this place ‘the jewel in the crown’ of the Kimberley.
These falls are rated by many people as the most spectacular in Australia. It is possible to go for a swim here in the river above the falls.
It should be remembered that swimming below the top of the falls is strictly prohibited due to the cultural importance of this place to the Wunambal people. The great creative serpents, the Wungurr, inhabit the deep and dark pools of Punamii Unpuu and ensure the rejuvenation of the people and their lands. It is important to respect these places. There is, however, a beautiful and very long pool above, upstream from the falls that is one of the best and safest swimming pools in the Kimberley.
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Aunayu – Surveyor’s Pool
The turn-off to 'Aunayu' or 'Surveyors pool' is located about 20kms North of the Mitchell Falls turnoff. It is on the left hand side of the road, and is well signposted.
There is then a scenic drive of around 12 kms to the Surveyor’s Pool carpark. This track can sometimes take some time to open to visitors early in the dry season as there are some notoriously boggy patches that need to dry out first. Check with the rangers or the information boards at the Mitchell Falls campground.
There are no camping facilities at Aunayu, Surveyor’s Pool, but as it is an easy day trip from the Mitchell Falls campground, there is no need to pack up camp to visit this wonderful place.
As the name suggests Surveyor’s Pool was first seen by white people through the surveyors working on the initial bauxite mining exploration phase in the second half of the 1960s. The surveyors marked out the tracks for the bulldozers to follow. These tracks can be seen criss-crossing all over the plateau for the keen sighted.
Mostly there has been no regeneration of adult trees in the 40 odd years since and these “shot lines” as they are known are often used as fire-breaks in the fire season.
Once open the walk to the pools is now only a short one and leads to a lovely view of the main pool. Again here the Aboriginal people and DEC ask that visitors don’t swim in the main pool as it may upset the Wungurr (Creative Serpent) that lives here.
There are some lovely pools upstream on the opposite side to the entry that you can have a relaxing and cooling soak in. You can also swim further downstream from the main pool but the Traditional Owners say to keep an eye out for smaller freshwater crocodiles. They are not considered life threatening but could inflict a painful wound, if disturbed and upset.
Please follow the signs carefully (as usual) as people have become disoriented and lost here. The surrounding country can look very similar to the visitor and become very confusing. Always carry water bottles and wear hats in the bush.
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Port Warrender and Admiralty Gulf Lookouts
From the turn-off to Surveyor’s Pool, still heading north, only 3 km further along, you will come to a sweeping lookout across Port Warrender and Walsh Point.
If you simply want to get a glimpse of the beautiful far north coast of the Kimberley this is a worthwhile addition to a day trip to Surveyor’s Pool. One a clear day you can easily see Malcolm Island and Steep Head Island in the distance.
If you are more adventurous you can push on to Walsh Point. (See below)
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Wandadjingarri – Walsh Point
This is the only road (track) access to the north coast between Walcott Inlet and Kalumburu. The track from the lookout down to Walsh Point is definitely 4 WD only and not for the fainthearted.
The last 10 kms of this track usually takes about an hour or more to traverse and it is very rough. At the end of this interesting drive are some camping places and a rubbish tip maintained by DEC rangers. Be aware there is no sand beach at all and the coast here is all rocky boulders.
There is a small creek with spring-water trickling to the salt water, which often dries up quite early in the season. There is no other fresh water available.
According to the Traditional Owners these waters come from the great creative serpent of Wandadjingarri, whose body can be seen by looking back along the mountain that overlooks Walsh Point and the mud flats.
Do not swim anywhere here! There are several large salt water crocodiles that inhabit this area and are extremely dangerous. One has been known to take fish from the back of a small boat while the owners were backing their trailer down to the waterside. Do not stand for long periods near or in the water – especially if the sun is glinting on the water. Crocodiles use this ‘camouflage’ to stalk prey. Keep watch at all times when fishing and stay clear of the waterline and don’t turn your back on the water. Stand well up the bank for safety.
There are also abundant populations of sand-flies in this area so if you are going to camp in the area it is advisable to have midgie-proof tents and plenty of repellent.
Note: Part of the way along the Walsh Point track from the lookout is a turnoff to the left going to ‘Crystal Creek’. This is an Aboriginal Reserve and is a restricted area. The track in is extremely difficult and not recommended. The Traditional Owners of Ngauwudu are planning to build a tourism facility at Crystal Creek in the future in partnership with various interests. Please respect this reserve area and do not enter.
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