Day 2, driving from Katherine, NT to Kununurra, WA is long but pretty amazing. I thought I’d start with a quick summary of the adventure:
- An early start to go on the sunrise cruise at Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge).
- Headed West towards the WA border.
- Stopped at Victoria Crossing roadhouse for fuel.
- Drove through Timber Creek.
- Crossed the WA/NT border and had our van checked at the quarantine station
- Turned off to Lake Argyle and checked out the lookout and shop there.
- Got to Kununurra, got a few more groceries, checked into the Hidden Valley caravan park and then went to Miramar National Park to see the striped hive formations there.
- Back to the caravan park for dinner and bed.
We covered about 620km’s, so it was a pretty long day, and there isn’t much of anything along the road. The sunrise cruise at Nitmiluk though was fantastic and well worth doing.
Nitmiluk Sunrise Cruise
The day warmed up very quickly and even from the time the sun began to reach us in the gorge we could feel the heat, so we were extremely glad we got in early and did this one. The sunrise also added a lot of colour variation within the gorge itself, highlighting some areas with vibrant orange and leaving others in shadows.
It’s only a few dollars more expensive than the rest of the 2-gorge cruises during the day, and I would guess generally has fewer people on it. The next group that was waiting when we got back was a lot bigger, so in my opinion, it’s a win for beauty, comfort and time. I say time because we were finished so early we had the whole day afterwards to do a lot of other things – in our case, drive the 620km’s from Katherine to Kununurra via Lake Argyle.
We booked the cruise online the night before, so when we turned up at the visitor centre, they pointed us straight down to the wharf. There we were greeted by friendly staff and had some complimentary muffins and a hot drink. They had hot chocolate as well as tea and coffee, so that was nice. It’s all self-serve, so it isn’t super fancy but does help to make it feel that little bit more special given that the rest of the cruises throughout the day don’t get that little nicety. Once it was time to board our boat we were taken down the ramp which is a pretty easy slope and I would say could be managed in a wheelchair. There we boarded our boat and off we went.
We made our way through the first gorge listening to the rather interesting commentary of our guide. It turns out that Katherine Gorge aka Nitmiluk is actually a series of thirteen gorges that are accessible depending on the amount of water in them following the wet season. We also learned about crocodiles and how to tell the difference between fresh and saltwater crocs. Our guide also explained to us how the saltwater crocodiles get so far south and how the park rangers trap and remove them from the gorge. We learned how Nitmiluk was named in Aboriginal, as well as how it got the name, Katherine, in English. We also learned how the gorge system works, filling in the wet season and flowing out to the ocean, then dwindling in the dry system, with a series of gorges joined but also separated such that it is impossible to navigate the length of them entirely by boat.
We arrived at the end of the first gorge and made our way up the ramp and stairs around the rocks to the second gorge. This section is not wheelchair suitable.
Along the path were ancient examples of Aboriginal rock art, high up the cliff walls.
The track itself is good, and very well maintained. It has steps at the start and a few elsewhere, but for the most part is smooth, painted concrete and rock, so it blends in well with the natural rocky surroundings.
It is about a 5-minute walk if you don’t stop for too long to look at the rock art and admire the beauty of the gorge from the excellent vantage points.
Once we reached the second gorge, we pushed off in a different boat.
This gorge is even more beautiful than the first.
Through this section, our guide told us about the breeding habits of crocodiles and pointed out to us sandy portions of the banks where they nest.
He also showed us some plants and trees native to the area and explained their uses. Some for dissuading mosquitos, some for food and so on. It was quite fascinating. Once we got to the end of the second gorge, we turned around and headed back. The sun was starting to get higher by this time, and it was getting hotter. The change in the appearance of the gorge just in that short period was quite noticeable and well worth seeing.
Once we got back to the start of the second gorge, we made our way back down the path to the first gorge and re-boarded our original boat.
As we made our back to the dock, the guide showed us some flowers that bloom in synchronisation with the hatching of crocodile eggs. We also saw two freshwater crocodiles close to one of the banks and our guide took us up as close as he could so we could see them. They are very well camouflaged. Wifey spotted them quickly, but I had some trouble. Unfortunately, I missed out on getting photos, but I definitely saw them!
And that was it, our croc sighting was actually very close to the dock where we boarded the boat in the first place, so it was only a few minutes from spotting the crocodiles that we arrived back at the dock. We got back in the van, had a bite to eat and then got on the road towards Kununurra.
The main highway from Katherine NT to Kununurra WA does not have a lot on it really.
There are a lot of termite mounds along the sides of the road, many of them absolutely massive. We were reading some information about them, and it turns out some of the huge ones were actually used in the past as burial places for Aboriginal people who passed away. It turns out that if an active termite mound were opened, the termites would seal it back up very quickly. So by breaking one open and placing the passed person inside, the termites would entomb the person very quickly. There were also a surprising number of scorched areas along the road.
We stopped at a few spots here and there for photos and toilet breaks, but there are only 3 roadhouses and towns along the way. We encountered a monument commemorating the opening of the Buntine Highway along the way.
Then we stopped at the one in the middle, Victoria Crossing. The maps make it seem like maybe it’s a little bit more than it is. It really is just a roadhouse though with a campground. So fuel is available and some limited food choices. The ground is red as red and gives real meaning to the name “The Red Centre”. The campgrounds at the roadhouse were grassy and well maintained, though, so it is actually quite pleasant – but hot.
We picked Victoria Crossing to fill up because we would not have enough fuel to get the whole way to Kununurra. We would have had enough to get to Timber Creek which is actually a little bit of a town, but we just wanted to be on the safe side and make sure we had enough fuel. In hindsight, I would have left filling up until Timber Creek. The reason I say that is that since we went into Lake Argyle on the way we were cutting it close to actually have enough fuel to get to Kununurra from there. There is fuel available at Lake Argyle, but it is very pricey. The best-priced fuel along the way between Katherine and Kununurra is actually at Timber Creek. So that would be my recommended place to stop if possible.
Crossing the NT-WA Border
The border crossing is pretty straight-forward.
There isn’t anything as fancy as the SA-NT border, but it’s worth noting that there is a quarantine inspection station. You cannot take fresh fruit and vegetables across the border into WA. Honey and a few other items are also prohibited. So make sure to check the rules before you cross and at the very least, don’t try and take any fresh fruit and veg. You’ll just have to throw it out, so it isn’t worth it.
Lake Argyle is absolutely beautiful.
It is a bit of a detour off the highway, but it is well worth it.
The lake is the largest man-made reservoir in Western Australie and the second largest in Australie with a capacity of 10,763 gigalitres, second only to the connected Lake Gordon/Lake Pedder reservoirs in Tasmania.
So at this size, it really is like an inland sea, and from the lookouts, the water seems to just go on forever between the hills.
You can go for a drive across the spillway wall. However, we didn’t have time.
We did make a quick stop into the camp store though to have a look and a toilet stop. There is a lot of history documented there, so if you are interested in that it is worth going in for a look. Then we got back on the road to Kununurra.
Kununurra and Mirima National Park
We arrived in Kununurra a bit earlier than we anticipated, but it was fortunate we did. We went and checked into our caravan park first, the Hidden Valley Tourist Park. It is quite a pleasant park on the outskirts of town near Mirima National Park. It has ensuite style ablutions, so even though you still have to go to the toilet/shower block, you have an individual toilet/shower/basin to yourself which does give you a little more privacy than a typical toilet block. The campervan/caravan area was well grassed and pleasant, but the roads are not paved once you leave the main entrance area. Not an issue unless it rains, then it gets a bit muddy. We checked in first because we wanted the flexibility to be out as late as we needed to be at Mirima National Park, which it turned out was worthwhile.
When we got to the pay station at the entrance to Mirima National Park, it informed us of a $12.00 entry fee, something we had read about in advance. We had read that having coins was a good idea, but we just hadn’t accumulated $12.00 worth of $2, $1, 50c and 20c coins yet. I’ve noticed increasingly that these machines take credit cards now, so we decided to check just in case it did. It turned out it did take credit cards. According to the signs at least anyway it should take Visa, Mastercard and American Express.
Unfortunately, we had no luck. I tried an American Express, a Mastercard, a pre-paid Mastercard and a Visa debit card. It would not take any of them. So alas we headed back into town to Coles. We wanted to get some snacks anyway for the long road trips. The kid at the checkout thought I was crazy when I asked to get out $12.00 in coins, and after raiding a couple of cash registers he was able to oblige with a mixture of gold and silver coins.
So back we went to Mirima National Park, and after almost losing one of our precious $2 coins when the machine spat it out, sending it rolling down the hill, we finally got our entry permit and went in. It’s a very short drive into the car park as you drive through beehive rock formations similar to what you would expect to see at the Bungle Bungles.
From the carpark, there is an easy boardwalk loop at ground level that takes you around the bases of many of these rock formations.
There is also a longer, more challenging walk called Derdbe-gerring Banan Trail that takes you up one of the formations.
From the top, you have a view over the rocks in one direction and a view over Kununurra in the other direction.
This track is a bit rough, though, the path is very rocky.
So do it with care, and especially keep an eye on little ones.
We were so fortunate with our timing, we were able to watch the sunset from the top. It was incredibly beautiful and worth the $12.00 entry fee.
Of course, that meant making our way back down in the dark which was a bit precarious. We did make it though and finally got fuel ready for the morning, then went back to our caravan park for dinner and bed.
And the Rest
Much to our surprise we were awoken in the middle of the night to a deluge of rain that continued the rest of the evening and all morning the next morning as we continued our road trip. It was so refreshing to have the rain after the extreme heat and humidity of our first two days.
I’d have to say my favourite part of the day is torn. I loved Nitmiluk and the beauty of the gorges, but Mirima National Park was also stunning, and at sunset, the colours were lit up so beautifully. See them both if you can!