Our land abounds in nature’s gifts of beauty rich and rare, especially so in regards to the Mitchell Plateau. A place where fiery landscapes are set against cobalt skies, where towering rock faces send pristine waters crashing to the rivers below. A place where secluded gorges hide ancient rock art that tells the ancient stories of our traditional owners.
As far as I know until very recently there were four main options for seeing this area. The first, was to tackle the drive yourself. The second was to pay to do it in a purpose built heavy duty, four wheel drive bus, fully inclusive of all meals and using glamping tents or similar for accommodation (approximately $20,000 for two for 14 nights). A third option was to do a tour on one of the small luxury cruise boats (a lotto win dream – very, very expensive). And the only other option I knew of was to take a two hour scenic flight over the area. However, recently a further option has been introduced, and this is the one we chose to do – we didn’t regret it for a moment.
Here’s how it went.
6.30am: We boarded our small plane along with four other passengers for the scenic flight from Drysdale to the Plateau. 1 1/2 hours of looking down on pristine countryside full of rugged ranges, criss crossed with waterways, yet virtually unmarked by roads or tracks. If any area is ‘the last frontier’, this is it.
The very small luxury cruise ships sail up some of these waterway, some reaching as far inland as King Cascades. I think the iconic True North actually drifts it’s bow right up under the falls, and if ever we win Lotto we may give it a whirl and find out for sure. It would have to be a good lotto win though as the going price is around $2000 a day each on a twin share basis.
At 8am the plane landed to let Paul and I off before continuing back to Drysdale with the remaining four passengers. Nathan who was to be our guide for the day met us with a welcome pack of chilled fruit and muesli bars to get us started for the day, along with a small esky with some corned beef and salad wraps, some yummy home made biscuits, more muesli bars, fruit, and a frozen bottle of juice for our lunch. We put our back pack of clothes into the Landcruiser, and set out immediately to begin the trek up to the falls. First stop – the helicopter base to book our return flight from the top back to the car, saving us the couple of hours it would have taken to trek back.
When we had originally booked this trip we hadn’t realised that the guided walk would only be for the two of us. What a delight it was to be able to walk at our own pace, not hampered by slower walkers, and not feeling any pressure to keep up with faster walkers. Nathan was amazing, helping me wherever I needed help, carrying two big water bottles, one for us, and one for him, and carrying a back pack with his own lunch,along with a satellite phone and first aid kit. He looked after us very well.
First stop was Little Merten Falls where Nathan pointed out all the best spots for a cooling dip. It was quite warm, so cooling down in the water holes or pools and then continuing on in our wet bathers helped keep our body temperatures at an acceptable level. At Nathan’s insistence we drank plenty of water at every stop. He said the main problem he has when he’s doing a guided walk is people who don’t drink enough and end up severely dehydrated. We obeyed.
After our dip, we were then led down behind the water falls to see some ancient rock art. It’s incredible to realise these pictures have remained in tact for many thousands of years. One area had pictures of people, and a separate area had pictures of animals and plants. It’s thought the animal and plant area was an ancient menu board advising of the food available in the area.
After Little Merten Falls we continued on to Big Merten Falls. Again we were grateful when our guide steered us away from an area that we could otherwise have been tempted to walk. Apparently, people try to get near the top of the falls to look over, but there are often dangerous cross winds. In recent years a woman on her honeymoon ventured to close for a photo opportunity, was caught in a cross wind and fell to her death.
Aboriginal women won’t swim in the pools at Big Merten, considering it bad luck. Believing they perhaps know something I don’t, I chose to honour their beliefs and stayed high and dry here. Both Paul and Nathan also declined a swim, so we continued on, passing some beautiful lily ponds as we climbed further up towards to the top of the tier of Mitchell Falls.
I think it was around mid-day when we neared the pool at the top of the falls. Nathan pointed out the best place to swim for our last swim during the walk, including a short cut to get there which cut off around half an hour of walking on the most exposed area of the track with nothing to see, just a destination to reach. The short cut meant carefully picking our way across rocks in almost knee deep water. Paul and Nathan took their boots off but I felt safer leaving my boots on, even though it meant they got really wet. Nathan was brilliant. He first took his boots, the water bottles and back pack across, then came back and helped me, testing every rock for stability and slipperiness before he’d let me put my foot on it. He would have helped Paul to if he’d needed it, but Paul being a bit of a mountain goat managed easily unaided.
Once across we enjoyed a good long swim, with Nathan ensuring we kept well back from the point where the water started to spill over forming the top tier of Mitchell Falls. It was a big pool, with only the three of us swimming there – very, very special, we felt totally spoilt!
Then onto a nice shady spot overlooking the falls to eat our lunch. I’ve seen loads of photos of the four tiered Mitchell falls, but none that do them justice. It’s not possible for a photo, or even a video to portray the volume of water crashing down the rock faces to the pools below, the sounds, the sight……it just has to been seen in person to be appreciated. If you’ve not been here, you really must put this place on your bucket list.
By the time we’d finished our lunch it was almost 2pm and time for our helicopter ride back to base. Then a short drive to the APT lodge for our accommodation for the night – a safari tent with an ensuite, and a real bed made up with fresh, crisp linen. Even if we hadn’t been sleeping on air mattresses on the floor, this would have been luxury. Compared to our little tent…. sheer bliss!
The APT campsite has it’s own little swimming hole which we had to ourselves for an hour or two before that days tour bus arrived for the night. Then a nice rest before dinner, a shower, and a short walk down to the open air pavilion for a few drinks and a superb three course dinner. There was a campfire outside the pavilion where I’m sure a few of the people from the bus tour congregated after dinner, but we were happy to call it a night. It had been a long day, and the walk up to the top of the falls tiring.
An appetising breakfast with everything one would expect awaited us at 7am the next morning before we were transported to the air field for our return flight to Drysdale.
So, would we do anything differently. Not a thing. It has been the absolute stand out highlight of our Gibb River Road trip. Even if we’d chosen the horrendous self-drive option into the plateau, we would have missed so much, things we only experienced thanks to our guide. Thank you so much Nathan – it was an absolute pleasure!