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Prince Regent Nature Reserve & Malubirindji Cave (23 May 2012)
contributed by BrianGeue
(contact BrianGeue about this story | see more stories from BrianGeue)
It had been six years since our last trip to the Kimberley region, once again plans were made around camp fires and after dinner discussions.
The challenges were set;
Drive to Kununurra as quickly as possible, 800 kilometres per day 4 days.
Drive to Mt Elizabeth Station above the Gibb River Road and then on their track to the northern most point of the track to Bachstens camp.
Leaving the car walk into Prince Regent River via Pitta Creek, down stream to Wulunge Chasm and Malubirindi Cave and return to the car via the headwaters of Prince Regent and a food drop on the final day. Eleven days in all.
Return to Kununurra, restock and visit the Bungle Bungles and Pontif’s Paradise again and maybe an underground creek north west of the bungles.
Then return to Adelaide.
Once again we had to leave three weeks later than planned due to unseasonal rain in the Kimberley. We set off in Brian’s new 100 series Landcruiser on Tuesday the 5th June 2007.
After five and a half days sitting in the car for nine hours plus per day we arrived as planned and found a spot to leave the car far enough off the track so nobody could see it but also in a spot where it would not get burnt by the random fires in the area. A sand bar in the middle of the creek seemed ideal. Arriving at lunchtime allowed us the afternoon to pack our rucksacks for tomorrow checking and rechecking everything was packed to plan.
Prince Regent River Hike.
We woke early to find a mist over the river’s surface, it was delightfully cool due our elevation of around 420 metres above sea level. After crossing the creek and putting our boots back on we headed north and after four kilometres of careful navigation we found the elbow of a tributary of Pitta Creek. Here we ceremoniously poured out our water bottles because the creek was flowing and we were following it down stream. Two more kilometres and the creek entered a gorge from the plateau we had been on all morning. With red escarpments on either side the tree lined creek looked spectacular. We arrived at a junction in the creek and the map showed a waterfall off to the left. Over lunch we decided to press on rather than wasting valuable time looking at the waterfall. This turned out to be a good choice because the going got tuff in the creek bed due to the thick vegetation so we climbed up the escarpment and followed it’s edge for another four kilometres, with numerous ups and downs we finally came to an ideal campsite. After setting up our tents we went for an explore walk without packs and soon found that we were close to the top of a huge waterfall which tumble down a 45 degree ramp of rock for about thirty metres.
The packs seemed heavier this morning when we heaved them up on to our backs, and soon we were clambering down the edge of the waterfall we found last night. A kilometre down stream we were confronted with a huge pool which stretched out of sight and completely covering the bottom of the gorge which now has shear cliffs 80 metres high on each side. We each had small inflatable mats with us to float our rucksacks on while we swim across these pools, well, that was the plan.
We stood looking at the pool for some time but nobody volunteered to get in, we just could not be sure there were no salt water crocks lurking in the deep water. We consulted the map and decided not to follow the creek as planned but to back track a little then climb over a saddle into another creek then climb out of that creek up onto an undulating plateau and cross the plateau to pick up Pitta Creek about five kilometres down stream. This meant missing an interesting section of Pitta Creek where a pinnacle of rock stood in the middle of the creek between the cliffs. It was a hard climb and difficult walking through the waist high dry grass up on the plateau. We descended via a tributary creek and down numerous waterfalls into Pitta creek. The only place to camp was on the other side so the creek was crossed and we found a great campsite on white sand. The fire was lit and it was time to try some fishing. We had included some small hand lines in our gear and with cheese as bait we soon landed a small barramundi. Six were caught in all and we cooked them in wet paper bark on the coals of our fire. Two fish each with a little pasta what a meal.
Once again walking down Pitta Creek was too difficult with thick vegetation from the edge of the water to the shear cliffs on each side. The alternative was to climb out of the creek again and cross more undulating plateau country to the brim of Prince Regent River Gorge and then descend into the gorge via another tributary creek. It was around lunch time when we viewed the great Prince Regent Gorge for the first time. We spent some time on the escarpment admiring the view and soon decided on a creek just up stream from our viewing point, on the decent Paul bumped a tree full of green ants most of which ended up down his neck. The pack came off in a flash along with the shirt and the ants were cleared and we were soon sitting on rocks in the middle of the river eating our lunch. We were able to cross this rocky section of the river easily so we proceeded down the northern bank to the Pitta creek junction. At the junction the river was deep and wide held back by a rocky outcrop and hundred metres down stream. A small stream entered the river from our side as well, it was a great camp spot and we had made it to the end of Pitta Creek. More fish were caught that evening Rob had extra butter in his pack in anticipation of frying fish in his old frying pan so the fish were filleted and fried.
Day 4. We were now a days walk from Malubirindji Cave and there was definitely excitement in the discussion of whether we were going to go up and over again or try to walk down the creek not knowing if we could get through on this side of the creek to our destination. Up and over more undulating country seemed the only sure way to achieve our goal. We started by walking north east up the small stream we were camped on then climbed a side creek north west to the top of a range traversing several serious undulations before finally descending into Prince Regent Gorge again. It was an extremely hard day with very difficult rocky terrain up on top and a view of an easily traversed river bank down below to let us know we had made the wrong decision that morning. The descent was made difficult by thick shoulder high grass with random rocks and logs to trip us up as we struggled to the river bank, Brian falling flat on his face several times in the process. A kilometre further along the bank we reached a perfect campsite with another small stream entering from the north. After resting a short time we decided to visit Malubirndji Cave that evening. We caught a few fish, Rob had a fancy stop watch function on his watch, so he timed Brian on how long it took to land a fish from casting the line. The first fish was eleven seconds, the second was eight seconds and they were a good size so we only needed three fish to feed us. We kept them live in a plastic bag in the creek while we walked to the cave. A good kilometre up the next tributary of the Prince Regent River we entered a gorge which had an overhanging pulpit rock high on the escarpment. The floor of the gorge was scattered with rocks which made crossing easy, the other side was like an amphitheatre with natural rock steps facing the bottom of the creek. Above the steps under a long and deep rock overhang was a rock face about two metres high with a shelf recess above. The rock face was covered with a wide variety of rock paintings mostly of human heads and full figures, the shelf was scattered with human bones, sculls and most interestingly, small parcels of bones wrapped in paper bark cylinders tied off at the ends like Christmas crackers, a totally amazing sight very authentic, just incredible. We each walked the length of the rock face, individually, saying nothing, touching nothing, taking only a few photos, knowing we were viewing something sacred. There was an obvious sense of achievement and satisfaction that night as we sat around the camp fire eating our fish. It had been a long and exhausting morning getting to the campsite but the pressure was off now, because our main goal for the trip had been achieved.
Day 5. We set off up the river bank to the previous campsite, an easy walk apart from a small section of rapids where we had to crawl on a rock shelf at the base of a cliff for twenty metres and then do a bit of rock hopping over some fast flowing water where the river was held back by a rocky outcrop. A couple of kilometres further up stream we crossed the river for the last time in the same spot as day three. We stopped for lunch where a large tributary creek entered Prince Regent. It was at this point we made the decision not to follow the original hike plan which was to continue up stream on Prince Regent exploring the head waters but to follow this new tributary and climb up onto the plateau we crossed on day two and return to the waterfall at the entrance to Pitta Creek Gorge. Here we would set up camp and spend a day walking to the tee junction on Pitta Creek and hopefully view the pinnacle from the top of the cliffs. We had missed this opportunity on day two and it looked too good on the map to miss altogether. We caught some fish for dinner, filleted them and carried them up the tributary creek to the next camp sight.
Day 6. Paul found some more green ants while climbing up an almost vertical waterfall on our way to the top. Once up on top of the plateau the going was reasonably easy, the grass was waist high and Brian only fell on his face a few times, but it was hot and dry on this section. It was about eight kilometres later when we picked up the creek which lead to the gorge and we had to follow this creek three kilometres down stream and then climb out of this creek system over a saddle into the opening of the gorge. This was our biggest day and we were all tired when we arrived at the base of the waterfall to make camp. Fish again for dinner.
Day 7. Rob decided to have a rest day and soak up the shear splendour of this location. We were camped on at least an acre of white sand dotted with huge paper bark trees, we had used large sheets of this paper bark as mats outside our tents to keep the sand out. There was a huge plunge pool about two hundred metres long adjacent to the sandy camp sight. Paul and Brian started early, crossing the creek and heading north west up the side of the gorge then sidled around to a point where they could see down the main stream of Pitta Creek. The view was spectacular, we could see the huge pinnacle in the middle of the main stream as well as the huge one hundred and fifty metre high cliffs on both sides of the tee junction which rolled around the ninety degree corner into both sides of the main gorge. There were lots of photos taken while we ate our scroggin and admired the view. On the way back to camp we work towards the edge of the gorge entrance for another breath taking sight. After recuperating and swimming in the pool at the campsite we all went fishing down in the gorge.
Day 8. After a steady climb south west from the campsite we plotted a course to the car over largely flat country. We crossed our path of day one and tackled a swampy area from a new angle which resulted in a few wet feet but on the last day of the walk who cares about wet boots. The last five kilometres was through low sparse scrub, easy walking but no reference points in sight but thanks to GPS navigation we arrived right on the vehicle. We had late lunch at the car and commenced the drive out of Mt Elizabeth Station. We recovered our unused food drop and went onto a campsite we used on our previous trip out of this area seven years earlier. Here we washed in the creek put on clean clothes and sat around the campfire with a bottle of red we had for such an occasion.
That was the end of the walk into Malubirindji cave and Prince Regent River. In the morning we were woke by rain drops on our tent. We packed up hastily and started on the long drive back to Kununurra. During the day the rain slowly increased in intensity, by lunchtime at the Kalumburu turn off it was steady heavy rain. The Gibb River Road was getting a bit wet but we kept driving because we knew it would be closed next day. It was dark when we arrived at Kununurra and still raining heavily. We found a tent sight in an over crowded caravan park pitched our tents and went out to dinner. After dinner it was still raining, the caravan park was getting a bit waterlogged. During the night Brian noted the water level was about seventy five millimetres deep by his tent door another ten millimetres and it would have come through the zips. The ground sheet was bulging up along side our sleeping mats just like sleeping on a water bed.
The next morning the rain had eased and the pool level around the tents had dropped but it was still raining. We later found all the dirt roads in the area were closed and in particular the road into the Bungle Bungles would not be open for at least a week. We drove around to Wyndham and back for the day and it was still raining. The next day down to Halls Creek and back to the Argyle diamond mine camping on the Wilson River, here we made the decision to drive south to Alice Springs via Kununurra. To this day we talk about what would have happened if we spent one or two more days in Prince Regent Nature Reserve and speculate on how deep the water may have been around Brian’s car where it was parked in the middle of the creek!
This story was uploaded into the Bonzle Digital Atlas of Australia entry for the Cave 'Malubirindji Cave'.
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