Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kimberly Australia: King Edward River, Bungle Bungles

This is a bit of a tease:

It's a fellow named Kevin Casey, a world-traveling, self-described "remote riverman" who recently replaced his inflatable kayak with a an Alpacka Raft. His first packraft trip was to Australia's far NW Kimberly for a solo jaunt that made my own solo trip look a tad tame. He recently posted on the Alpacka Rafters site that Gabon would make a good packrafting destination for the savvy wilderness traveller.

His Kimberly journey was in May, the early, cool start to the dry season, which contrasts mightily to March when Peggy and I were there and it was deadly humid and hot. Think East Coast August humidity and Phoenix, AZ August temperatures. By May, it's dry and cool, and super nice. Main problem is getting back to civilization once you reach the mangrove and crock-infested coastline. NOLS runs canoe trips down the Drysdale River in the Wet, but I think when I go back, I'm going in May. March almost killed me.

Peggy and I drove out from Darwin (3+ days drive) to see the Bungle Bungles but the park was closed so she camped at the road while I rafted down the Ord River to walk into the park. It was a strange and wonderful experience. The water was as warm as a hot springs and the air like an oven. I paddled past a pack of wild dingos resting on the bank then splashing off through the shallows; flocks of a thousand gallahs, pink colored cockatoos sqawking; and what looked like ten thousand fruit bats fussing and fighting in the tea trees with a dozen freshwater crocodiles waiting below to feed on the hapless weak ones that fell into the water. I paddled though this melee of bats and crocs then camped downstream, spooked.

As night fell, a half hour of bats (see the video below) passed overhead in the beautiful sunset. I slept restlessly for fear of crocks climbing up on the bank to get me, bivied on an air mattress under a cotton sheet. Alive in the morning, I watched the thousands of bats return.

Downstream I paddled through some fun class II rapids with crocs waiting in the pools below. Then I rolled up the boat and headed for the Bungle Bungles, an incredible landscape of domes and canyons.

On my hike there I walked on a jeep road, rutted and eroded, when I came to a nine foot snake, clearly an elapid, and judging by its size and aggression, a king brown snake. I stopped and it headed toward me. I threw a rock at it to get it to retreat but instead it checked out the rock then headed for me more directly, more quickly. This alarmed me so I retreated up the road and watched as it disappeared down a gully.

The next day I hiked into the Bungles, walking up the Piccaninny Gorge. It was hot, oh so hot, and I found another snake, and water monitor lizards, and a few birds and fish. I was all alone here as the park was closed for the wet season.

It was just too hot. The balls of my feet feet on the hard surfaces in the heat in La Sportiva Fireblades were blistering so I decided to walk at night in my crocks which, were really functioning as camp shoes.

To save batteries I walked in the dark, fearful of snakes. To save fluids I rigged my sheet for shade during the day and tried to sleep. It took two pushes to walk the 30 miles out in my crocks. The second night was trippy, as in a bad psychedelic experience. First there was the late afternoon heat. My watch thermometer read 113 degrees under the umbrella carried as a parasol. Then there were the bush fires burning, burned out, or smoldering everywhere as I entered the wooded hills.

I crossed a creek and heard two feral bulls, the ones that are wild and never get rounded up, bellowing -- no roaring at each other, just as the tropical sun dropped, and one bull came toward me and I hurried off into the scrub to get trees between me and the beast, like you would with a pushy moose. That freaked me out, with all the poky bushes and grasses and the snakes lurking, I knew, and me barefoot in my crocks, 'cause the bulls came for me as I was trying to put my socks but no time, had to run. And that was just the beginning.

Then it got black and the hills were burning in bush fires, creepy, and silent and no wind, no night sounds, under a billion stars, all weird, except Orion in a funny place and that weird Southern Cross. Later the sideways moon rose and I could hear digeridoo music: Honest! Way out, like 20 miles from the nearest road and that road an empty thing in the Aussie Outback. I couldn't make it out to Peggy in the dark that night and I was tired from no sleep (too hot in the day fro walking or sleeping for that matter), so I camped in the dirt and woke in the morning with a centipede and a scorpion under my sheet with me.

And the next morning I walked out to the road, happy to be alive.


  1. Sounds like an epic. Did you have any inkling it would be so?

    Sometimes epic is welcome, other times it's hard to wrap your head around if you were expecting mellow.

    Thanks for sharing.


  2. I concur with saying EPIC. Awesome stuff, Roman, love it!

  3. Looks like a great trip! We just paddled some awesome rivers in the Kimberley. 3 days paddling. 1.5 walking. No portage. A Good wet this year. Looking for more (packrafting) paddling opportunities in the Kimberley. Anyone got a list of rivers? I'll show you mine!


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