Mitchell Falls was a very beautiful four-tiered waterfall that we thought truly embodied the beauty and rugged character of the Australian Outback in the remote Kimberley Region of Western Australia. As you can see from the photo at the top of this page, this place provided that rare harmony of a scenic oasis nestled in a rugged red rock wilderness under cloudless blue skies that also felt very private (as not many people would make it all the way out here). Indeed, Julie and I thought it was the highlight of our WA visit in June 2006, and we knew that we’d remember this place for a very long time the moment we first saw the falls and what it took to get here. In fact, the closest place that we could think of that might come the closest to what we experienced here (i.e. that Shangri-la-type feeling) would be Havasu Falls in Arizona, except with far fewer people.
Mitchell Falls was said to be the second tallest waterfall in the state of Western Australia at a cumulative height of 80m (at least according to the literature). The stunning backdrop of the red escarpment lands of the Mitchell Plateau provided the elevation needed to channel the Wet Season rains over the cliffs resulting in the necessary conditions to have a waterfall in this otherwise harsh and unforgiving land. Like with other waterfalls in the tropical regions of Northern Australia, most of the flow of the falls came from Wet Season rains, and the flow then would diminish as the Dry Season wore on. Thus, in order to get a good waterfalling experience, a balance of accessibility in the Dry Season and flow from the Wet Season would need to be struck in order to get the best of both worlds.Speaking of which, given the remoteness of the falls, getting here was not easy. The options that were available to us were to either do a multi-day 4wd adventure along the Gibbs River Road and Kalumburu Road, then hike and scramble on the 3.3km (each way; 6.6km return) Punamii-Unpuu Trail, or do the more expensive aerial tour. Since Julie and I didn’t have the time to devote nearly an entire week to this adventure, we did the latter. Basically, we took what was known as the Mitchell Falls Explorer (courtesy of SlingAir and Heliworks WA) where we were flown from the air strip in Kununurra to a remote airstrip on the Mitchell Plateau. This flight lasted about two hours. Once at the airstrip, there was then a helicopter ride that circled around Mitchell Falls and the neighboring Big Mertens Falls before landing near the top of Mitchell Falls.
At that point, we walked the final 15 minutes of the Punamii-Unpuu Trail to a fabulous view across the gorge of Mitchell Falls (see the photo at the top of this page). This track may have been short, but we had to keep a keen eye for following the route, which was overgrown in many spots and was quite easy to get sidetracked or lost. The track allowed us to get various views of the multi-tiered falls before arriving at its end. We were given about two hours to spend at the top of the falls, which was only enough time to experience Mitchell Falls but not enough time to do any other exploring.
When we returned to the circle of stones that was acting as the makeshift helipad, we noticed that there was an elderly woman who was escorted off the chopper and onto the track to the falls. I realized at that point that the “cheater’s” way that we partook in to get here would’ve most likely been the only option available to the elderly in addition to those short on time like we were. Of course, if Wet Season conditions persisted, then visiting the falls by air would also be the only means of getting here as well (since the 4wd roads would likely be flooded or too muddy to continue).
As for the more adventurous and self-sufficient option, we did encounter a British couple who did do the long 4wd adventure to get to Mitchell Falls. They mentioned that the hike they did to get here included the first 800m to a swimming hole known as the Little Mertens Falls. Then, the remaining 2.5km was on the rugged Punamii-Unpuu Trail passing by the top of the Big Mertens Falls along the way. Again, these other attractions were not possible for us to do given the limited amount of time we were given at Mitchell Falls.
Since we were staying in the WA town of Kununurra, we were actually shuttled from our accommodation at the All Seasons Hotel to the airstrip in town. The tour started at around 8am and ended around 2pm. Our tour also included a visit to King George Falls so I’d imagine it was a little longer than just an out-and-back visit to Mitchell Falls. Truthfully, that additional waterfall visit was what sealed the deal for us (not that we were that serious about not doing the non-aerial option in the first place).
As for the more difficult and time consuming land-based option, we could only tell you what the British couple we met told us (since they actually went through with the long drive and hike). They said they drove some 240km west of Kununurra on the rugged Gibbs River Road, then they drove north for 161km on the Kalumburu Road. They eventually reached a turnoff leading towards the car park for Mitchell Falls at Mertens Creek. They said the drive took two days, and the Drysdale River House made for a convenient overnight stop. They camped at the trailhead before getting on the trail, when we met them in the late morning.
Even though we didn’t do this option, Julie and I appreciated the degree of self-sufficiency that was necessary to make it here. For example, I’d imagine you’d need to bring enough food, water, and supplies to last you at least three or four days. Plus, you’d need to be able to deal with the possibility of a flat tire or even an engine breakdown or getting lost. Thus, we totally respected what the British couple we met were able to do, and for those who have or are willing to do this option, we salute you!
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