East Kimberley – Kununurra to the Bungles

Two weeks after we first arrived in Kununurra our car issues were fixed & we were able to move on. All new leaf springs & shock absorbers turned out to be the best option. Expensive, but the alternative was a minimum 6 week wait for a single leaf to be freighted out of the eastern states to Perth & then up to Kununurra. Initially I thought this was a tale to push me into buying higher cost parts, but after phoning around a number of suppliers right around the country I realised that what I was being told was correct – a fact of life when so far from large towns & cities where folk take so much for granted. As it was the springs, supplied from Darwin were delayed, not quite sure why but the delay was at the Darwin end. The local 4wd workshop worked after hours to get our job done as soon as they had the parts.

Whilst ‘marooned’ in Kununurra, we actually found that it was a pretty good place to be marooned in. Our RAC membership helped to smooth the way with our ‘recovery cover’ paying for our caravan park fees & a hire car for the duration. We have been members since 1987 & have used them during our previous jaunt around the country 10 years ago & back then, just as this time around found them easy, quick & efficient to deal with. So they should be after all 32 years of annual membership fees, but they really are good at what they do & it makes a real difference when feeling under the pressure that a breakdown in a ‘foreign’ place brings. We moved to a more expensive powered site in the caravan park & enjoyed the luxury of well shaded site under a couple of large mango trees. Normally we park in the sun to ensure our solar panels can keep our batteries charged. Having 240v power on tap also meant no problem running my CPAP machine at night without our usual power source from the car. Socialising with fellow campers made quite a change for us, used to camping alone mostly. According to MrsTea my ‘mouth runs away with me’, …… must have been saving up all those words to share with others I reckon! Ha ha.

Hidden Valley Caravan Park

The hire car, a small ‘all wheel drive’ automatic sedan was, in hindsight, a mistake. It kept us mobile but was restricted to sealed roads only, & most of what there is to see around the area involves leaving the bitumen. We could have paid a ‘gap’ fee & had a larger high clearance 4wd which is allowed off the bitumen, but at the time, not knowing what our car repairs might cost, chose to stick with what the RAC would cover without any additional costs to us. However we were still able to get out & about, primarily with thanks to the friends we had made whilst up at Cape Domett, Ian & Michele. What a great couple! Our chance meeting with this adventurous pair became our reason for enjoying Kununurra as much as we did. They went out of their way to share their passion for the area & their interest in travel with us & we really can’t thank them enough. We just hope that perhaps one day we might be able to repay them, & if not that they find others to ‘look after’ them somewhere, just as they ‘looked after’ us. We went out for dinner together, & enjoyed a BBQ at their home on another occasion. Ian put in a ‘good word’ with the 4wd mechanics working on our car, & we have no doubt that the ‘accountability’ this placed on the mechanics made a real difference to the service we received. But wait there’s more! Michele took us bushwalking to Packsaddle Springs, not far out of town, but impossible to find without a ‘local’. It was a reasonably arduous walk but we loved it, taking us to swimming spots well off the tourist trodden paths where we enjoyed skinny dipping under waterfalls, revelling in finding such a place among harsh dry boulder strewn hills. Ian, in an afternoon changed our perspective of the town completely. For years we have heard other travellers recommend the commercial fast boat trip (Triple J Tours) down the Ord River, between the Diversion Dam & Lake Argyle. For many this has been a highlight of thir time in the Kimberley. For us it was no less, but instead of sitting in a boat with 30 or 40 others, we had Ian’s comfortable boat. Fully carpeted & shaded, powered by big outboard motor – we had our own private ‘Triple J’ cruise. It was hard to pick which was more enjoyable, the myriad of small lush vegetation lined waterways off the Ord, or the imposing tall red cliffs gorges with their green ‘fluffy’ spinifex accents, or the wildlife along the way. Ian recounted his experiences on the river from his ‘mid-ships’ steering wheel, talking of wet season waterfalls thundering down into the river & social gatherings out on the water. It became so apparent how much fresh water, which Kununurra has in such great abundance, shapes life in the town, making it quite unique. Wet season Kununurra certainly has a strong attraction. Awesome natural beauty combined with a strong sense of community sounded so enticing. Temperatures in the high 40’s (centigrade) day after day perhaps less so. The surrounding landscapes are as picturesque as it is possible to find anywhere in the country.

Michele, our intrepid guide.
Yours truly at one of the Packsaddle Springs water holes ( suitably cropped).
Ian at the wheel alongside MrsTea
The Jetty at Lily Lagoon in Central Kununurra where we launched the boat.
One of the small tributaries, this one alongside ‘Elephant Rock’
One of the Triple J tour boats moored down the river.
Return to town as the sun went down.

We heard the term ‘Diversion dam’ used quite frequently, but had not realised quite what this meant, other than knowing it was the dam wall we had driven over when entering Kununurra from the west. For those of you like us who didn’t know, the dam, which we had wrongly assumed was built to create Lake Argyle, was in fact built in the 1960’s to allow diversion of the Ord River water to what was then a new irrigation infrastructure, creating a huge agriculture industry in the surrounding area. (Lake Argyle came later with further dam (or dams) built. The country for many kilometres around the town is criss crossed with a network of open water channels, water wheels & weir gates. It is now ‘old technology requiring manual operation. Water Distribution workers are employed to go around the farms to open & close gates supplying every farmer with the enormous quantities of water they use as & when required. The now aging infrastructure does not, it seems, lend itself well to the age of computerisation. The job of the Water Distribution Officers is a tough & thankless one, we know because until we arrived in town that was Ian’s job, but coinciding with our arrival he had decided it was no longer for him. All sorts of crops have been trialled over the years, but from what we saw the main crops today are sweetcorn, sorghum, sandalwood, melons, chia & a variety of market garden crops. I may be wrong but suspect the successful crops are those which can do well in poor soils if given sufficient water. Town power is hydroelectric.

Left to our own devices we climbed the local lookout, Kelly’s Knob, which almost killed me, it’s a steep climb, the sign at the bottom warned of an ‘Arduous Climb’ & it did not exaggerate! At the top we were rewarded with 360 degree views over the town & across the Mirima NP. We also met Mona, half of Marco & Mona who had been at Cape Domett with Ian & Michele. I had scraped myself up the last few feet puffing & panting bigtime to the summit. Mona had run all the way up, & was leaving to run back down. She explained she was due at her fitness class soon!

Hidden Valley caravan park with Mirima National park behind, from the top of Kelly’s Knob
Kununurra from Kelly’s Knob

Back at the caravan park we were introduced to our new visitors by an elderly chap who asked if we had yet met them. Initially we wondered about his sanity, seeing no visitors. He insisted however & stood staring into a tree alongside our camp, so we did the same & saw ….. nothing. He was enjoying himself at our expense & insisted we look again, several times. Just when the ‘joke’ was wearing thin we spotted the two Tawny Frogmouths. They were daily visitors to the tree, sitting completely still for hours at a time, & so well camouflaged. He also told us of a Bowerbird’s bower a short walk away which we found.These ‘bowers’, commonly thought to be nests, are not. They are built by the males soley for the purpose of attracting a female mate. Different birds choose different colours to attract their mate – this one had chosen a mix of white, grey, green & silver – including an aluminium tent peg! Hopefully one of his local females liked it enough for him to ‘get lucky’!

Our ‘vistors’, the Tawny Frogmouths
Mr Bowerbird’s courting boudoir.

One further personality in Kununurra was significant to us – Abby the wonderdog. This diminutive little lapdog belonging to Ian & Michele could ‘out-dog’ many 10 times her size. She bushwalks & rock climbs where larger dogs struggle, she captains the boat from the bow fearlessly, & among other tricks retrieves underwater rocks larger than her head. Nothing seemed to phase her & her stamina continued when larger dogs wilted. She also made a pretty good lap dog too. It was good to meet her & have her accept us for a while.

Abby the rock diver.
Abby our fearless Bosun.

Springs & shocks & oil pressure sensor fitted. All appeared satisfactory but of course needed testing to allow us to to re-establish trust in our vehicle. We were told of Parry Creek Road, a road with sufficient corrugations to show up any problems, a little high clearance driving & some camp spots, springs & waterfalls to take in en route to a place we would not dream of missing. Marlgu Billabong is a must for any lover of wildlife, we loved it 10 years ago & it was on the must revisit list. The Parry Creek Road from Kununurra to Wyndham would take us there.

A few cattle on the Parry Creek Rd. We love the floppy eared Brahman.

Although expected, it was a relief to find we no longer had the horrible knocking noise underneath the car which we had endured from Kalumburu to Kununurra. Phew! Also nice to have the oil pressure gauge working again. Having a fault free vehicle is most reassuring!

Other travellers at the Caravan Park had told us that the condition of Parry Creek Road was atrocious, but once again we found ‘road condition are in the eye of the beholder’. We kept wondering if it was still to greatly deteriorate, but it never did. Nevertheless we knew if the knocking noise was still there we would have heard it. What had felt like initial ‘over-bounciness’ of the new springs & shock absorbers proved to be good once the Tvan was attached & the short ‘high clearance only track between Middle Springs & Black Rock falls showed, if anything, an improvement. At Buttons Crossing we stopped to look at the Ord River again, this below the Diversion Dam, & on it’s way to the coast, making it a certain home to Saltwater Crocs, although we saw none. The road led right to the water’s edge & this, combined with it being called a crossing, we naturally assumed it was a ……crossing. When we saw how fast the water was flowing & realised it’s depth we determined that it would be a crossing for boats or submarines only & wondered if anyone has ever unknowingly driven their car into the river only to find themselves totally submerged within seconds . We joked about crocs laying in wait for unsuspecting drivers. Perhaps somewhere close by there is a shallow rock bar where old drovers used to take their cattle across?
This was a popular bush camping area with plenty of caravanners enjoying their shady riverside outlooks.

Buttons Crossing ….. Hmmmm

Spring Creek was a nice surprise & made for a pleasant lunch stop. Other than the Ord itself other waterfalls we had seen were not flowing- it is such a dry year, but spring creek, a small waterway was full & flowing.

Spring Creek
Somewhere on the Parry Creek Road a young Boab has lost it’s legs.

Our goal was to stop reasonably early at what we hoped would be a pleasant & secluded camp site we had been told about, on the banks of the Ord River. Turning off the Parry Creek Road onto a narrow & unmarked track was a good feeling. It was precisely the sort of track we would normally bypass, like most folk, not knowing if it was permissible to drive on it , nor whether it would lead to to somewhere with sufficient room to turn around with our Tvan attached. This is where travelling with something in tow is a disadvantage over just a single vehicle. A single vehicle will always have room to turn around, a towed vehicle is a risk. We have always believed that if push came to shove we could unhitch the Tvan & ….. well, push & shove the thing around & re-hitch if necessary. But we have never had to resort to this & are not keen to try it. On this occasion local knowledge made turning off on the track risk free …… or so we confidently thought!

After winding our way over several kilometres of rocky, sometimes washed out track across largely undulating un-treed country we reached the outer banks of the Ord, denoted by trees & the track winding down through them to the dry river bed where tracks criss crossed pebbles & sand before reaching the edge of the flowing river ….. still a large body of fast flowing water, but clearly nowhere near as large as it sometimes is. Driving this track was fairly slow & we experienced a phenomena which was a first for us. The wind blowing from behind us was moving faster than we were & the dust raised by our wheels frequently overtook us meaning we were driving in our own dust cloud, quite a novelty, but one I’d be happy not to repeat. There were any number of tracks heading in both directions along the water side, in & out of yet more trees. We got out & walked to see where, & where not to drive. There were several very pleasant waterside camp spots where which, with hindsight, we should have stayed at, with a good firm surface & sufficient turning circle. BUT ………. the wind had got up a bit more & we felt the need to seek out a spot more sheltered. Not only is this more pleasant to sit out in, but wind & outside cooking on a gas stove are not mutually compatible!

And so we found a lovely little sheltered spot between the trees overlooking the water from a high sand bank. All I needed to do was a three point turn with car & Tvan. Once again my inexperience in the art of reading river sand came to the fore. Straight line – no problemo – tight turns – a different kettle of fish! By the time I had discovered this I also discovered I had got us into a bit of a pickle. Yep we were bogged for the third time since starting our travels with the Patrol & Tvan! Our situation wasn’t going to be helped by use of the Max Trax (recovery boards) & the winch was of no use at all as the last thing we needed to do was to pull ourselves closer to the edge of the water. Of course what we should have done was to sit down, boil the billy & have a cup of tea, but no, I was having none of that, the little voices in my head were telling me we could be in for a long job, (once we worked out what to do) & the end of daylight was a little too close for comfort.

So I reduced our tyre pressures to 18psi all round, dug out the sand piled around the wheels & made one last attempt to complete the three point turn I had begun. The pickle became a lot stickier, with the car wheels bogged, the car on an alarming lean close to the edge of the sand, toward the deep, fast flowing & croc infested water! Just to add to the ‘fun’ the Tvan was now jack knifed behind the car. No way forward or back! My confidence was draining fast, but with this came my ‘race face’ – no room left for failure – time to get us out of the pickle I had put us in ……. but how?

In the meantime MrsTea had begun filming my extrication attempts. I became a little ’snappy tom’ about this, seeing film making as an unwanted distraction & so she ceased & put her iPad away. Later I felt sorry I had demanded she stop, it could have been amusing to share the footage with you, but instead you will have to make do with my words to form your own picture.

First we unhitched the Tvan after inching the car a little closer to the water, heart in mouth, to gain some clearance between the rear of the car & Tvan’s drawbar. Second we unhitched the Tvan, utilising an assortment of timber pieces to gain sufficient clearance to lift the drawbar clear of the tow hitch. This in itself was achieved in several stages & took 30 + minutes. Then came the lifting, pushing & shoving. Do-able on the smooth concrete floor of our shed at home, but here in the soft sand we were pushing sh*t uphill, or more precisely we were trying to push the jockey wheel uphill, & with *very* limited success. Between us we could barely lift the drawbar off the ground, but lift it we did, for just a few seconds at a time. The aim was to pull the drawbar around sufficiently to hopefully create space to drive the car past the Tvan. With much grunting , heaving, (& worry about back problems) we managed to move the drawbar sideways as far as we could, about 18 inches. The Tvan wheels in the sand put paid to us pulling the drawbar further ….. but thankfully the 18 inches combined with the car now with lowered tyre pressures (& no Tvan attached) proved just sufficient to allow the car to be manouvered past the Tvan. A few inches this way then a few inches that way & so on, but each few inches became longer & finally success in passing the van was achieved, followed by a half kilometre drive to turn around, returning to have the car facing the Tvan at about 90 degrees.

I was now confident that all would be well. The plan was now to use our car’s electric winch to pull the Tvan around by 90 degrees. The first time our winch has been use in a ‘recovery’ scenario. When I saw the Tvan’s jockey wheel being pulled deeper into the sand my confidence plummeted yet again, I knew to persist would see the jockey wheel snap & place us in an even bigger predicament. Phew-ee! More heaving & sweating to get a block of timber under the jockey wheel was wasted effort. The winch just dragged the timber along with the wheel, still further into the sand. It was at this point I recalled once having watched a YouTube video where a shovel was used as a ‘sled’ under a jockey wheel in similar circumstances, so we tried it.

Once we had the shovel blade under the jockey wheel, I judiciously operated the winch whilst MrsTea kept pressure on the shovel handle upwards & in the direction of the winch rope …………….. & it worked! We were both astonished that the shovel blade was not deformed, but had it have been it would have been a small price to pay to get us out. Sighs of relief & a sense of achievement in what felt like overcoming the odds! With the Tvan now in a position where it could be rehitched to the car, with the car on a slightly firmer surface all was now well, & it still wasn’t quite dark. Yay!

We won’t forget this incident, but we also wont forget the camp spot. Were we not feeling a little pressured to move on eastward it was a spot where it would have been easy to spend a chilled out week or more. I reckon it’s yet another place to return to, but next time there will be no attempts at a three point turn. Reversing in might be a challenge, but there are other options should that defeat us. 🙂

Despite our ‘troubles’, once set up it was a lovely spot. Note the wheel marks close to the water!
Not a bad view to wake up to.
There were a number of these pretty bushes around us.
Early morning light

Marlgu Billabong was as good as we remembered. For a relatively small body of water it punches well above it’s weight in the wildlife diversity & density stakes. Below are a few of the many photos we took from the above water bird hide.

On the way to Marlgu Billabong.
Spoonbill, Ibis & Saltwater Croc.
Something very photogenic about Purple Swamp Hens.
Same applies to Pelicans
White Bellied Sea Eagle was quite regal looking.
Rajah Shelduck
Last time here we watched a Jabiru wrestling a snake. This time just one walked nonchantly along the shore.
Magpie Geese were present in large numbers, Pied Cormorant behind, not sure what sort of ducks.

We expect that these are what bring many of the birds here.
A shy Nankeen Night Heron

Wyndham bakery was closed the last time we were there, but is currently trading again. Their Barramundi & their croc pies are legendary, & so they should be at $10 each, but we had to give-em a go. We both opted for Barra, MrsTea Barra & garlic, & I with Barra with lemon pepper. They were small but well filled ….. & tasty. Why such delicacies need to contain those evil little round green peas in beats me, but it was relatively easy to pick’em out whilst sat up high looking out across the Five Rivers lookout views. Tide was out.

The drive up to the lookout is signed ‘No Caravans’, it is very steep with a number of very tight switchbacks. Previous experience has shown us that a Tvan doesn’t count as a caravan, & the Patrol had no problem pulling us up there & back down again, albeit slowly. 1st & second gear all the way up & down.

The striking mud flats from Wyndham’s 5 River lookout.

We had been told how to find another rock art site by friends in Kununurra & this was where we headed to camp for the night. Again an unmarked station track, not shown on maps or GPS. We found the turn off as described as we drove back toward Kununurra on the highway. For anyone passing through the Kimberley & wondering whether to detour to Wyndham (It is not on the way to anywhere), do it! It has to be one of the prettiest sealed road drives in the country. Having enjoyed this drive (no corrugations!) we now found ourselves on a narrow sandy two wheeltrack track which took us about 5 or 6 kms off the highway & into the Deception Ranges. At the end of the track we found ourselves at the bottom of tall cliffs with rock shelters running along their base covered in aboriginal rock art, & in front of this a clear & flowing (yes another!) small stream. We camped in burned bush (no choice) & walked the short distance to the rock shelters, discovering a deep water pool hidden at the base of the cliffs. Once again we felt privileged to enjoy a little known spot.

Dramatic cliff face in the Deception Ranges.
Burned country
A burned & fallen ancient Boab, with old surveyor marks inscribed into it’s trunk. Sad to see it like this.

We tire of seeing so much ugly burned country.
Some of the paintings had been outlined in white ochre, presumably in more recent times.We haven’t seen this done elsewhere.
A small creek flowing along the bottom of the cliffs & maintaining some greenery when around it has burned.

And so back to the highway, south toward Halls Creek, through yet more ultra-scenic country, stopping early in the day to spend the night at a new campground we had learned of. Baula-Wah (also known as Violet Valley) is one of a new ‘breed’ of ‘Camping with Custodian’ campgrounds, where spending time with the aboriginal owners & learning something of their culture & lived experience is part & parcel of the experience. https://www.violetvalleycampground.com.au/ This is included in the camping fees rather than expensive add-on tours. We wanted to support this new venture. The problem was we were uncertain if they had opened yet or not. Back in Kununurra a recorded phone message suggested opening had been delayed, but we wondered if the message was outdated. About 20 or 30kms south of Warmun (Turkey Creek) we turned off onto the track to Baula-Wah, prepared to return the 11kms back to the highway if they were not open. We were met by Carla sporting a huge beaming smile, clearly pleased to see us. She & her grandfather Bruce own the property & the campground, which had been one of the old ‘Aboriginal Reserves’ in the past. Back in the 1960’s when blackfella’s were given equal pay to whitefella’s on the stations (instead of meagre flour, sugar & meat rations) most station owners kicked them off of their traditional lands & they were rounded up like animals & placed into reserves. Some developed into towns like Halls Creek & Fitzroy Crossing, Baula-Wah became a supply depot for the surrounding stations & the aboriginals were moved elsewhere. At some point the property went back to Aboriginal ownership & Bruce’s parents brought him up there. It is Gija country & Bruce is a Gija man. It’s a small station by Kimberley standards, totalling less than 100,000 hectares. Bruce runs cattle & horses & is slowly improving his herd, & reckons he needs 5000 head of cattle to remain viable, but the new camping venture will help. It’s a peaceful place with a lot of wildlife. Heaps of kangaroos (in contrast to what we have found elsewhere in the Kimberley) & birdlife. We learned that they are yet to officially open the campground. The brand new & well appointed ablution block & camp kitchen was spotless, the grass green & the trees shady, but Bruce & Carla are still waiting for the contractors who installed them to sort a few things out which should have been done properly in the first place. It’s a lovely little set up, with just 12 camp sites, well thought out & sustainably manageable. Bruce clearly has the attitude & ability to make the project work. We were the 5th people to have stayed & hope that many more discover what is a great alternative to the dusty offerings just a little closer to the popular & iconic Bungle Bungle (Purnululu National Park).

Pretty drive into Baulu-Wah
An easy place to stay & only 25kms up the highway from the the Bungles turn off.
Lots of bird life – here a pair of Black Kites.
Yep that is a Kangaroo on top of the rocks.

The Bungles, or Bungle Bungle (not the Bungle Bungles as they often get called) are a natural phenomena that no Australian traveller should miss. Over 350 million years old the huge ‘beehive domes’ formed from the compressed sediment washed from nearby once Himalaya like mountains (the Osmand Range) & subsequently eroded to their current intriguing shapes by water & wind which continues to cut the maze like paths & creeks between them, was incredibly only ‘discovered’ by the white community around 60 years ago. I can vaguely remember hearing of this whilst we still lived in England. Since then their status has been lifted to deserved World Heritage listing. There are similar rock formations elsewhere but nothing on the magnificent scale found here. The photos below give a ‘feel’ for the place (we hope), but truly it is a place to walk in & experience for oneself.

I just liked the bark-like texture of the rock together with the trees & spinifex.
A Bungle Split (Similar to a Banana split but hard & crunchy & without the flavour)
Elephant Bungles
A river of rock. Picaninny Creek bed.
Beatles eat your heart out! 😉
‘Our bungle’. It adopted us when we sat in it’s shade to eat our lunch.
A bungle with a hole in it.
Fossilised ancient crocodiles …………………. not really, it’s an eroded rock river bed.
When the sun was at the right angle some of the Bungles glowed like they contained a huge fire.
Inside the ‘Cathedral’ cave
People help to show the enormous scale of the cave.
Something so grand is worth a closer look.
Even the car park is photogenic.
Edited to lighten as it was early in the morning with everything in shadow.

This image not edited. It’s my favourite taken in Echidna Chasm as the sun was overhead. I call it ‘MrsTea walking into a different dimension’. Steven Spielberg would love it!

I recognise those limbs!

Today we left the Bungles via the 4wd 53km rocky switchback road back to the highway & are sitting comfortably in a pleasant roadside rest area 14kms north of the Bungles turn off. Here we can see a phone tower on top of a nearby hill & have a rare 4 bars of 4G reception, so not a bad spot to write & post this ‘episode.

With the delay in Kununurra, our plans have changed a little. We are now on our way to Halls Creek to get a few supplies & will then turn off onto the Duncan Road & subsequently the Buntine Highway (both dirt roads) to Wave Hill, & then North through the Gregory (Judbarra) National Park to Timber Creek, before enjoying some more sealed road highway across to Katherine. Stay tuned!

4 thoughts on “East Kimberley – Kununurra to the Bungles

  1. Just gasping with your adventures when you got bogged but even more so with the photos of the Bungles. I have some photos taken with my original Panasonic NV-DCF7 when we went to a place just outside Kununurra which the locals called Secret Springs. I somehow managed to drive my Subaru Liberty Rallye with low ground clearance almost all the way. We had to walk about 300 mtrs along a very rough 4WD track to get to the springs. Its a shame I cannot attach the photo as the springs is similar to your photos.

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