Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Extraordinary Taxi Ride, Gibb River Road, Kimberley, Western Australia.

Right from the start this Extraordinary Taxi Ride experience has lived up to or exceeded expectations. It’s amazing how little I knew about this huge country, and now I’m presented with a fantastic learning opportunity. It’s a bit like starting a new school perhaps, or new job, where every minute a new is fact revealed, a new thought prompted, or another new vista of wildlife discovered. The top end of Western Australia is a whole new university in the school of life and travel to attend, and our lecturers, the guides, pilots, and tourism staff that we’ve met, know their job thoroughly, and treat us so well, that we’ll graduate this semester with flying colours. I am amazed at the enthusiasm and depth of knowledge our guides have for this ancient, exciting and scenic land. I know so little, so now hang on every word they say, and soak it up.We’re being taken beyond and behind the usual tourist stops, sights and experiences and being exposed to a deeper, more meaningful side of this ancient,jagged country.And all that we experience, every place we visit, is available to any other traveller , that does take the time to explore this vast,unspoilt and beautiful land. This university is billions of years old.You can feel it in the jagged rocks you walk.
Day 1.
We’d arrived in Kununarra in the late afternoon of  31st June, after a long and eventful flight from Wellington, via an overnight in Melbourne,then an early morning flight to  Perth, then onwards via Broome.
Kununarra Country Club our first night accommodation is clean,well presented, and the meals were excellent. A special mention for the salt water barramundi dish. Very juicy ,thick fillet in a delicious sauce with shaved Baobab root seasoning creating an amazing  flavouring.
And the only hotel we’ve stayed where the aircon filters were impeccably clean.I reckon you can judge the standard of hygiene maintenance in a hotel by how well maintained the aircons are.And a lot of accommodation providers are real slack when it comes to basic maintenance of aircons.Too often  we'll book into a room, check the aircons, only to find a filthy grimy mat where clean filters should be.This place was pristine clean!
Day 2.
It was an early start for our flight up to breakfast at Mitchell Falls Wilderness Lodge.Kurt our pilot with Slingair, provided a very chatty and informative commentary of the history, station lifestyle and geographical features of the huge terrain we overflew on the 500 km’s up to Mitchell Falls.Flying at 6500 feet gave us spectacular views over the land.So vast, and no sign  of human disturbance.The mangrove lined rivers and estuaries stood out in stark relief to the sandy salt pans, and thinly vegetated country.I'd really recommend this flight rather than 500 KMs by dirt track! Just a couple of bumps and jolts and we were safely landed on that dirt airstrip.
Mitchell Falls Wilderness Lodge tented chalets were in a very rustic natural setting amongst the pandanus, and Livistona palms with a natural creek swimming pool (croc free) at our tent’s back door. The Plateau is the only place where this particular genus of Livistona Eastonii palms are found and in such density.
The ride after breakfast up to the trek start point by 4WD Landcruiser was exciting. Powering through the red mud bog holes, with a red tidal wave thrown up each side of our vehicle was heart thumping stuff! You didn’t want to get stuck because there were no other vehicles getting through to be able to assist.We were on own!Max our guide/driver was going to have one hell of a job cleaning that Landcruiser! He’s a very knowledgeable guide, and kept us informed of the plants, bird life and history of the area.
A very scenic and not too taxing walk took us into the falls area. Little Merhtens Falls was an especially significant rocky outcrop with a natural jagged rock sheltered cliff overhang.For eons, Aboriginals have used the area..There is an aura about the place.Somehow,seeing those rock drawings,painted so skilfully 17,000 years ago,and realizing that since then successive tribes people have venerated that site, can wield a spell upon you. I felt it to be the single most significant place I had been to in the last two days.It’s a special and spiritual place! Trekking through such beautiful country,visiting and inspecting those rock drawings, then enjoying the vista from behind the waterfall where it throws itself into the lake was almost overpowering.
A short trek then took us up to the Mitchell Falls.Where we were able to overlook the series of 4 terraces taking a huge volume of water after the recent unseasonal rains.We were seeing this normally dry land alive with a full carpet of green grass, and brilliant verdant forest.And powerful torrents of water pouring through jagged chasms and over high rock ledges.Couldn’t have been a better time to appreciate this huge wilderness.The country seemed to me to be alive and breathing.
The view from the top of the falls is spectacular with commanding views out over the river and surrounding countryside.As far as we could see, no sign of human interference with this wild environment.
Hiking back down to the lower falls, our short wait was rewarded with the arrival of our pick up helicopter.Yep!Taking the easy way out.I was prepared to hike out, but our guide Max reckoned if I did, he’d take my seat on the copter!Max was left to walk!
Back to Mitchell Falls Wilderness Lodge, a welcome cold beer, a refreshing dip in the croc free creek pool, and the best meal of fresh snapper ever!Gee these guys know how to cook.
Met some wonderfully friendly people over dinner, on a 13 day tour out of Broome.Seems a popular way to visit Mitchell Falls and the Gibb River Road sights.Many were self driving around Australia, but  they'd hopped on the tour so as to get around places only accessible by 4wd.
Day Three.
I made a special point of arising early,and getting to the pool patio area, just to sit quietly to listen to the dawn bird chorus for some time prior to our breakfast. Sublime. Breakfast was plentiful and well cooked.A choice of cereals,yoghurt, fresh fruits and the usual bacon and eggs.
An early morning hour and a half flight took us to a bumpy landing at El Questro Station.And we met Chillie. He’s one of those marvellous icons of the real Australia, who has a Master of Arts in the subject of Life in the Outback, but has never had a tutor! More correctly, I should say he’s been self taught, and also learned off the best and the hardest this harsh land has produced during those rough cattle rearing years out here. The land that was made famous in the great epic film Australia!
Chillie was our guide for the day at El Questro.A day of learning about the environment, bush tucker, the history of the station as a cattle ranch and it’s subsequent changes of ownership and development into a major tourist destination.55,000 visitors a year in this million acre tourist destination.
We were lucky enough to be lodging in the homestead.This overlooks the river with very scenic views.Don’t ask about the tariff because if you need to ask, you shouldn’t be staying here!But believe me, worth every dollar.Caters for the very top end of the market.And we were top end !(For 2 days at least).
An awesome dining experience that night.We were led to our private dining area, on a cliff side rock ledge, 50 metres above the river. Reg ,Doug our taxi driver and I enjoyed fine dining while observing the floodlit scenery. Just not the place to drink too much….one stagger and it’s over the edge and you’re croc tucker.Those hundreds of swarming catfish, the occasional barramundi , and snapping turtles knew a meal could be coming! There is supposed to be a resident saltie down below.We didn't want to find out.
Day 4
El Questro Wilderness Park truly lives up to it's reputation as one of the most unique holiday destinations,offering accommodation and camping facilities for the full range of travel styles.The Homestead where we stayed is just one part of this million acre operation.Plenty of camping and cabin choices for the average traveller.
We were taken by boat up the Chamberlain Gorge.No outboard motors here destroying the serenity of the environment.Electric motors pushed us quietly and slowly up the gorge to the 'No Fishing Allowed " area where tame fish abounded.As we slowed I'm splattered by water and turn to see fish spurting water from their mouths.Many Archer's fish were aiming their spurt at the guides hands He's teasing these trained fish with  feed pellets.We're surrounded by hundreds of them.And suddenly up from the depths a huge barramundi broaches.Wow!That was so fantastic!
A short drive then trek in the afternoon took us to Zebedee Springs.Where a hot stream cascades down from the high rock face, and Nature has provided we weary travellers with many natural hot pools set in between huge boulders and palm trees.Kind of cool to have tadpoles tickling our toes!Spent a very relaxing time languishing in the pools.We've got lots of hot pools at home in New Zealand but nothing quite as intimate and in such a natural garden setting.

Taxi ride Leg 10

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