The Bungles and Keep River

Saturday 7 July to Sunday 8 July

We had a terrific flight back to Kununurra from Kalumburu and got a lift with Sue the pilot out to Wendy’s place at Crossing Falls. Jackie, the Deputy from Kalumburu was also on the flight and had time to kill until her flight to Darwin at 2pm so she tagged along. Both Fred and Wendy were in Perth so we set up our camp out the back and organised our life in readiness for a return to life on the road.

The first task was to head into town to Kimberley Fine Diamonds. Unfortunately, Christine had discovered that the diamond from her engagement ring had disappeared somewhere along the way. The fact that this occurred in the heart of diamond country struck me as something of a coincidence but I played along with the ruse. We looked at trays contained an endless array of diamonds in all sizes and colours. The most expensive I saw was $107,000 but luckily the setting wouldn’t take it. As it was, we ended up buying a bigger diamond and arranging to have the setting changed. The work would be done while we were away in the Bungle Bungles so we could pick it up on our way back through Kununurra. Ah well, what’s another day’s work (or even three day’s work).

With the shopping complete, we gave Wendy’s washing machine a good workout, caught up on some much needed afternoon sleeping and reorganised the packing.

Monday 9 July to Wednesday 11 July – The Bungle Bungles

By Monday morning we were ready to set off South once again to catch up with Trevor and Emma at Turkey Creek in readiness for a trip into the Bungles. We drove back over familiar ground to Turkey Creek. Trevor and Emma were there waiting for us, along with Marcus, another teacher from Fitzroy. They greeted us with the news that there was no room at the inn so we headed down the road 5kms and made a very comfortable bush camp. With the temperature dropping dramtically, a camp fire was a necessity. None of us could believe how cold it was when we left the warmth of the fire to head off to bed. It was one of those nights when rolling over was a major decision to make and the crispness of the pillow was ice rather than starch.

The next morning we undertook the drive into the Bungles in a convoy of three vehicles. The last time we were here the 53km took just under 3 hours but literature was suggesting a 2 hour trip. Things were going really well until the first major creek crossing. Three other cars had just made the crossing, complete with tarps lashed across the radiator. Our convoy wasted no time on such precautions and we launched ourselves across. Marcus decided a bit of speed best suited his Toyota Hilux ute. The big bolders on the creek bed decided otherwise and he entertained us all by literally bouncing the vehicle through the crossing. Trevor’s big Series 80 Cruiser just did it with ease while we took it pretty easy in the Ford Explorer. After an exciting hour and a half of scenic driving, we arrived at the Ranger Station in Purnululu National Park and paid our camping fees. Christine and I decided to make bookings for a helicopter flight over the dome formations. This proved too much for the others, who soon followed suit. We had two choppers booked for the next day at 8:30am. We found a great camp site at Kurrajong Camp and set up for a quick lunch.

After lunch, we drove out to the Eastern end of the range and explored Echidna Chasm. This amazing formation starts off as a typical (although deep) Kimberley sandstone gorge. As we explored further up the gorge, it narrowed until it became an amazing 200 metre high crevice only 2 metres wide. Boulders could be seen wedged across the crevice, suspended dangerously above our heads.

Then it was off to the Western end and a walk amongst the famous &quotbee hive domes&quot, along Piccanniny Creek to Cathedral Gorge. The beautiful feature ends in a huge natural amphitheatre with near perfect acoustics. Standing at one end of the cave, one can hear natural voice conversations from others on the other side some 80 metres or so away. Could be very embarrassing! IT has been 9 years since we were last here and it is refreshing to see that the place remains relatively unspoilt. Some people feel that the Bungle Bungles needs more development and a better access road but to me part of the mystery would be lost. The numbers visiting are already reaching the maximum sustainable number so I’m happy to leave the area as it is

Campfires at night are a necessity in this part of the Kimberleys in July, with night temperatures dropping into single digits. The rangers supply wood to camping areas and so we enjoyed a very plesant evening. Trevor and Emma are experts with camp cooking using camp ovens so Christine is happy to step back from her usual culinary creations and let them go.

The next morning it was up early to drive out to the air strip for the helicopter flight. None of us had been on a chopper before so we did not quite know what to expect. We had two machines, three in one and two in the other. Christine suggested splitting up so one of us could enjoy the superannuation but we eventually got in together. All fears were vanquished as we lifted off. What a great feeling. We were both instantly converted to helicopter travel.

Others have told us before that to really appreciate the Bungles, one has to see them from both the ground and the air. How true! There is no way to truly appreciate the sheer size and extent of the formation from the ground. The view from above reveals an enormous matrix of valleys and gorges, most of which would be inaccesible from the ground. All too quickly, we were back on the ground. Everyone agreed the experience was well worth the time and money.

After a hearty meal of bacon and eggs, we packed camp and set out once more over the rough track back to the highway. This time, the big creek crossing took its toll, smashing the jockey wheels on both camper trailers. We pushed on towards Kununurra, making camp for the night at the Durham River, in time to try a spot of fishing. The effort proved fruitless. Trevor and I could see grunter, large eel-tailed catfish and some tarpon looking fish in good numbers but nothing would bite.

Thursday 12 July to Sunday 15 July – Keep River

The next morning, we said farewell to Marcus, who was headed back to Fitzroy and on to Broome for a Perth bound flight. We drove on to Kununurra with Trevor and Emma, stopped for a few supplies and ,of course, to pick up Christine’s engagement ring. The result was terrific and CHristine left proudly sporting a genuine Argyle Diamond. From Kununurra, we crossed the border into the NT. Only 10km or so later, we turned North into the Keep River National Park. Here we hoped to find both good scenery and good fishing, with sooty grunter being the main target species. The ranger reported that the first camp site was full so we had to drive the 25km to the far camp. Here, the recent heavy rains had caused flooding so access to the walk trails and main river hole was barred. Trevor and I realised that our stay would be more scenic than fishy.

The scenery proved to be well worth the visit. We undertook one terrific walk of around 3km through an amazing &quotlost city&quot formation with sweeping views of some incredible sandstone escarpments. We rested up some, read books and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. The Keep River itself is not much this far inland, and seems difficult to access in many places. Our thoughts turned to fishing again and we decided to return to WA and access the Keep River further North, were the tidal influence would provide a better chance or barramundi.

Unfortunately, we ommitted to register our vehicles at the quarantine station on the border so we faced losing all our fruit and veg, even though we had purchaed all in Kununurra. We put everything into one box and showed some recepits from Coles Kununurra dated just a few days before. This satisfied the officer checking our car but Trevor had to have his cast new checked out so we waited while the quarantine officer kindly removed all mud and dead leaves from the net. Ironically, the last time the net was thrown was in WA so any cane toad tadpoles were local ones. The quarantine rules are strict and well policed. So far, they are paying off although one gets the impression that the cane toad issue is only one good wet away from being lost.

We went back through Kununurra and turned North again across the Weaber Plains and getting lost out on the Carlton Hill Road. A local gave us directions and we were soon back into the NT and following the Keep River once again. By now, the Keep was a serious river. We selected a shady camp site on a reach of the river that looked tidal and set about the difficult task of getting the boat into the water. We put the trailer together and loaded up the boat. After an hour or so and one completed aborrted attempt, we realised that it would have beenb better to forget the trailer and cart the boat on the roof. Eventually, we were in the water and off. It was with disappointment that we discovered the water was still fresh and flowing.

After a fruitless couple of hours trolling and casting lures, it was time to pack it in before the light failed. One last troll through a likely looking hole in a rocky bay produced a strike for Trevor on a gold Reidy’s. At 46cm, the barramundi was not a keeper but gave us hope for the next day. The next morning was were up at first light and back to the spot. Almost every pass produce a strike and we had a ball on the little barra, even though Trevor outfished me 4 to 1. The biggest was also Trevor’s at 53cm, a mere 2 cm off having barra for tea. After a while we headed back to camp and I swapped spots with Emma. Trevor figured that this place was her big chance to catch her first barra. They returned triumphant, with Emma landing a small but pretty fish. Hey, a barra is a barra!

Well pleased, we broke camp and drove back into Kununurra, a trip that resulted in our first flat tyre of the trip to date. Trev and Em had gone on ahead and secured a couple of spots at the Hidden Valley Caravan Park, a difficult task during school holidays. By the time we arrived, the park was full. They were planning on a return to Fitzroy the next day while we would hang on for a couple of days, get the tyre repaired and let the pace of life slow a little.