The Mitchell Falls
Let me just start by saying Mitchell Falls are probably the most spectacular waterfall I’ve seen in Australia. It’s definitely worth tackling the tough drive out there to see them for yourself and getting there will be half the fun just make sure you’ve got at least two spare tyres and that the roads are open. You can check the roads by visiting the Main Roads website (insert link) or calling (phone number). To get there set off from the Gibb River road and head up towards Drysdale River station, this is a good place to fuel up before you go if you need diesel and you can leave your trailer or caravan here too if you want. Drysdale station is located 60km down the Kalumburu road from the Gibb River road turnoff. From Drysdale it’s a further 103km to the Mitchell Plateau road turnoff and another 90km down to the Mitchell Falls campground. There’s more to these distances than you might think though and this drive from the Gibb should take a full day.
There are lots of nice river crossings along the Kalumburu road, they make great places for birdwatching and some of them you can even camp at. Shortly after the Mitchell Falls road turnoff you will come to the King River crossing; this one can get quite deep and can be fast flowing so make sure you check it out before going across. It’s usually pretty good fun. Almost directly after the crossing is a track to the left which leads to an aboriginal rock art site. This unique style of art is known as Bradshaw and very interesting to look at and well preserved here. There is also a second site further up the road.
The Mitchell Falls road takes you up along high ridges and through amazing forests of endemic Cycad palms. The road is rough but if you take it slow it should be fine, we averaged around 30 – 40 kmph when I went. going slow has its advantages besides avoiding damage to your car and flat tyres you have more chances to see the wildlife. The forests are full of Northern Rosella and other birds, there are small fields of wildflowers and you might even see a Frilled Neck Lizard. I had never seen one before I went out to Mitchell Falls and I saw three in the same day whilst driving out.
Once you arrive at the Mitchell Falls camp ground there are plenty of waterfalls to see on the walk to the main falls. It’s possible to see the falls by helicopter and you can do a one way flight or both ways so you can walk back but after seeing the falls on the ground from the furthest lookout I didn’t feel like I needed to see them any other way and a lot of people have said to me they felt the same. Getting there is half the fun. When we arrived in the afternoon, we decided to go to Little Mertens Falls, the closest waterfall less than a kilometer from the campground, for a sundowner and a swim. This waterfall is incredibly beautiful, the best wallowing spots are in the little pools above the falls, the view is amazing, the water is crystal clear and flowing nicely and there’s lots of little holes to sit in. You can walk up to the edge and watch the water cascade over to a bigger pool below also good for swimming in. If you continue down the Mitchell Falls trail you can access the bottom of Little Mertens, as you go around the falls you will come to some big rock steps down and as soon as you step off the last one there’s a path to your left. This path leads down to the big pool below the falls and if you stay right it will take you around to a big overhanging cave that goes behind the waterfall. This cave is awesome, and the walls are filled with well-preserved aboriginal rock art. Little Martens is well worth an afternoon to relax and take it all in.
Taking the walking trail on further you will come to Big Mertens Falls this is about 3km from the camp ground and the trail to Mitchell Falls takes you right along the top of the falls crossing Mertens Creek. This is waterfall plunges down into a deep valley and is best viewed from its far side where you can walk along the rocks to see it from a better angle see maps.me for tracks. After Big Mertens crossing it’s about another kilometer to the Mitchell River crossing. This crossing can be hard to find and doesn’t really look easy at any point. When you come over the small ridge and can see the river you should notice 2 white markers and a clear foot track going straight down between them to the river’s edge, this is the official crossing point. The first time I did it I came to the river and saw this area but thought the water was flowing too fast to cross here so I went downstream to where there were more rapids and eventually found my way across there, it was a maze and took a few attempts but I made it across and when i got to the bank on the other side on the ground in front of me was a sign saying “Keep out helicopter landing area”. The crossing wasn’t marked, it was 4am and it was dark as I was going for first light at the falls” On the other side I saw a sign which designated the correct crossing point for those who took the one way helicopter flight to the falls so they could find their way back and so I took the correct crossing back which was slightly easier. With the crossing you’ve just got to back yourself and take it slow and find the best path, its only really slippery at the edge near the banks so it’s not too bad. If you don’t have anything with you like cameras which can’t get wet just swim across it’s much easier.
Once you get across don’t follow the river around but continue straight across the rocks and you will come to another section of the falls which is normally dry, you can cross this and staying high make it around to the left side of the gorge above the main Mitchell Falls, this is the opposite side to where you came from again check maps.me. From here you can find a trail along the top of the gorge, it’s not well marked but that’s good and keeps the tourists away. If you follow this trail you will see glimpses of the falls through the bush as you walk. You’ll eventually come to a small kind of cave from which you can walk/climb out past the “cliff risk area” sign that’s on the floor, through the rocks to an amazing lookout on the edge of the gorge wall where you will finally see the majestic Mitchell Falls in all its glory.
After you’ve taken a moment or an hour to enjoy the falls and think about everything that brought you here to this moment you might be just about feeling ready to head back. When you do head back after crossing the dry waterfall area walk back towards the falls and stay high along the edge to get a view of the lower falls looking straight down from the top of the cliff wall. Walking out along the edge there are some great viewpoints of all 4 of the waterfalls that make up the Mitchell falls, there’s steep drops and rainbows and beautiful bush backdrops all the way back to the crossing area and even a designated swimming area to cool off in. Don’t go too close to the edge of the cliffs though it’s a long way down.
Facilities at Drysdale:
- Paid camping
- Parking for vans and trailers
- Rubbish disposal
- Public telephone
- Diesel fuel
- Scenic flights
Facilities at Mitchell Falls:
- Paid camping
- Helicopter transport
Thanks for reading guys, remember to check out the rest of the blog for information on other Australian travel destinations and then get out there and see it for yourself. Also check out our posts on 4WDing, if you need some advice.