For more than 30 years, Willis’s Walkabouts has been taking people on walking adventures into the Kimberley and Pilbara wilderness. Their program includes more than 50 trips, no two of which are alike.
As well as going to well known places like the Bungle Bungle, Mitchell Plateau, Karijini and the Gibb River Road, they also go to inaccessible places like the Kimberley Coast and Drysdale River National Park and little known places like the Carr Boyd, Cockburn and Osmond Ranges, the Charnley, Isdell and Durack Rivers.
On every trip, the experienced guides lead you off-trail into wonderful places and superb campsites you share with no one but your walking companions. They are yours and yours alone because you walk to get there.
On all their hikes you carry a pack containing your food and equipment. You need reasonable fitness but the trips are not endurance tests.
Willis’s Walkabouts take you to places where there are no phones, no cars, no people, no hassle – places where you can swim in clear, tropical pools, camp under the most amazing star show on earth, enjoy a three-course meal by the campfire and relax the evening away with a group of like-minded people.
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This trip is divided into two sections, either of which may be done on its own. Those taking part will see an abundance of wildflowers and waterfalls in places which for most of the year are dry rock. The final night of each of the first section is spent in budget accommodation in Kununurra. Section two is slightly more difficult than section one.
Section One: Northern Carr Boyds – Seven Days
Located south of Kununurra and west of Lake Argyle, the peaks and cliffs of the Carr Boyds will be familiar to anyone who has visited the region. From the roads they present a forbidding face, dry and barren, rugged beyond belief, but up close they can show a different nature. Local bushwalkers love the range for the numerous deep cool gorges, lovely waterfalls and beautiful fern lined pools.
Section Two: Cockburn Range – Seven Days
Bounded by the King and Pentecost Rivers, the Cockburn Range is a relatively small plateau surrounded by massive cliffs. The view from the road has been described as the “most hauntingly beautiful” in the Kimberley. The interior is even better. The heavily dissected plateau hides deep gorges, waterfalls and shady pools, perfect for swimming.
This trip takes you into three different environments. You canoe along the Ord River, and take part in long walks in the Carr Boyd and Cockburn Ranges.
Section One: Ord River Canoe – Four days
From Kununurra you are driven to Lake Argyle where you put the canoes in the river just below the main dam. The next four days are spent doing a leisurely paddle back to Kununurra.
Section Two: The Carr Boyd Range – Six days
From the road, the peaks and cliffs of the Carr Boyds present a forbidding face, dry and barren, rugged beyond belief. Up close, they can show a different nature. Even after the driest of seasons, spring fed creeks trickle through deep, cool gorges and lovely pools bounded by lush vegetation.
Section Three: The Cockburn Range – Seven days
Bounded by the King and Pentecost Rivers, the Cockburn Range is a relatively small plateau surrounded by massive cliffs. The view from the road has been described as the “most hauntingly beautiful” in the Kimberley. The heavily dissected plateau hides deep gorges and spring fed creeks which flow long after the larger rivers in the surrounding countryside have dried to a few pools.
Drysdale River is the largest and least accessible National Park in the Kimberley. On this trip you will see a variety of gorges, waterfalls and wildlife. You will visit many Aboriginal art sites in an area which contains one of the greatest concentrations of Aboriginal rock art in the Kimberley.
The tour highlights many long pools on the Drysdale, so long that they can be used to land float planes. We plan to fly in and land above Solea Falls, do a long loop walk and fly out from a pool near where we came in.
Morgan Falls is one of the largest waterfalls in the region. Worriga Gorge is one of the best examples of monsoon rainforest. The diversity of the flora and fauna and the great scenery are both good reasons to visit this area, but there is more. Something else very special appears to be the reason that public access to Theda Station has been closed.
Theda Station and Drysdale River National Park both contain an amazing concentration of ancient Aboriginal rock art, especially the Bradshaw Paintings (also known as Gyorn Gyorn or Gwion Gwion), some of which are believed to be at least 17,000 years old.
This is the only time of year when you have any chance of seeing the Bungles waterfalls and creeks flowing. The pools are deeper and more comfortable for swimming. If you are reasonably fit, enjoy a challenge and want to see the Bungles as almost no non-Aboriginal has ever seen them, this is the trip for you.
The tour begins with a relatively short flight from Kununurra followed by a scenic circuit over the Bungles and land at the park airstrip. From here it is about eleven kilometres to the start of Piccaninny Gorge, almost nine kilometres to the first major creek. Even along the four wheel drive track, expect it to take three to three and a half hours. With the park road closed, we will have it to ourselves.
The route will be determined by the amount of rain we get. If water levels permit, you will spend the first week exploring Piccaninny Gorge and its many tributary gorges. These gorges offer a variety of delights — some are palm filled, some are very narrow and require swimming, some have caves which require the use of a torch.
This is a major expedition with a minor exploratory component based on their previous trips to the region plus information they have obtained from other people who have walked through or flown over the area. The route takes you through beautiful gorges, lush valleys, and a variety of vegetation, lots of birds and a number of Aboriginal art sites.
Section One: Silent Grove to Isdell – 12 Days
This section is a loop that will take you along a number of minor creeks to a gorge on the Middle Isdell and then back to the bottom of Bell Gorge. The pools, the cascades and the views here are too nice to leave out so you will spend a day walking over to visit them, relaxing and enjoying the area before returning to the base camp to enjoy some of the special extras that come in with the food drop.
Section Two: Isdell to Silent Grove – 11 Days
From the bottom of Bell Gorge you continue west along the Isdell along a series of minor creeks where you will find numerous pools and several Aboriginal art sites. Finish the walk back at Bell Falls where you began.
The Mitchell Plateau is one of the ecologically most important areas in northern Australia. On this walk, you see everything from open woodland, broad river valleys, deep gorges and spectacular waterfalls. You will visit many Aboriginal art sites, the number of which may be a reflection of the diverse habitats and abundant natural food supplies.
Different route options are available. One possibility is a one or two day walk to Surveyor’s Pool, an isolated pool surrounded by six metre white cliffs. A second possibility is a short walk to a potentially interesting waterfall the map shows only a few kilometres from the road. A third is driving down to the coast for a two day exploration of Crystal Creek where you can find a shady gorge, good pools and a small waterfall which does not appear on the map. The guide will decide based on the interests and abilities of the group, available water supplies and the condition of the four wheel drive tracks.
This trip is divided into three sections, two in the Bungle Bungles and one in the Osmond Range immediately to the north of the park. Each section consists of a single long walk taking you far beyond where any vehicle will go.
Section One: The Osmond Range – Seven Days
Although this area is within walking distance of the Bungles, it could hardly be more different. Most of the creeks are spring fed and flow well into the dry season. The vegetation remains green and includes the southernmost monsoon forest in the Kimberley.
Section Two: Piccaninny Gorge – Eight Days
The start of the Bungles walk is about 130 kilometres from Warmun. The last 80 kilometres is a four wheel drive track. These gorges offer a variety of delights – some are palm filled, very narrow and require swimming. There is at least one gorge that allows you to reach a high point. No words can do justice to the beauty of the area.
Section Three. Piccaninny East – Eight Days
In this section, you visit a very different area to the east of Piccaninny where you find a landscape full of pools, gorges, open areas and interesting rock formations.
Section One: East of the Berkeley River to King George River – 15 Days
Head inland and explore the many pools along the unnamed creek which feeds a spectacular waterfall the guides have only seen from the air.
Section Two: King George to Faraway Bay – 11 Days
A bit of climbing brings you to some outstanding views over the gorge below. Along the way you will encounter a variety of Aboriginal art sites. From here you have an easy walk over to the King George River.
Section Three: Faraway Bay to and along Lower Drysdale River – 11 Days
A relatively easy afternoon walk brings you to an interesting creek system with some nice pools and an interesting Aboriginal art site. These easy days are followed by much longer and more strenuous days as you make your way west to a major north-south creek.
Section Four: Drysdale River to Kalumburu – Eight Days
Depending on the exact route chosen in section three, you may follow the Drysdale upstream through the lower gorge or you may take a short cut along some smaller creeks, a faster route which would get you to the unknown section more quickly.
Section One: Munja Track and Bachsten Creek – Eight Days
The long drive from Mount Elizabeth is very rough and will take the better part of a day. You will, however, have the occasional stop for a stretch or to look at some of the art sites along the way. You will explore Wren Gorge where you will find a lovely small waterfall, several beautiful pools and an abundance of Aboriginal rock art.
Section Two: The Charnley River – 15 Days
The Brockman River is only about 20 kilometres from the airstrip, so the drive at the start will be relatively short. A short walk of about one kilometre downstream brings you to the much larger Calder River, hitting it at a point where it passes through some particularly interesting rock formations. Spend the night on the Calder and walk to the Charnley the following day. The terrain is moderately easy but it can be hot.
In order to explore the area properly, you will do a number of day walks, the first of which will be down the Charnley to near where it empties into Walcott Inlet. Other walks will be along some of the larger tributaries.
This trip is for adventurous people who wish to explore the unknown. You will not know exactly where you are going until you have finished the trip.
Willis’s Walkabouts dreamed about this trip for years. They flew over the Durack again and again, each time seeing it from a slightly different angle and tried to figure out a practical, not too expensive way of getting there.
They found a bus to take them from Kununurra to Wyndham, a boat to take them from Wyndham to the mouth of the Durack and then quite a distance upstream. They got dropped off in a tidal area but a short, reasonably easy walk from there got them to a great view point overlooking the fresh water below. Even this close to the tidal zone, they could see only freshwater crocodiles and one of their big safety concerns immediately disappeared.
The exact spot you get dropped off on each tour will depend on the tide at the time. They may not know the exact route but they do know that you will wander through some amazing gorges and that you will visit the single largest Aboriginal art site they have ever found.
This tour begins with a bus to Lake Argyle and a boat ride across the lake to the beginning of the walk. The next week takes you past some spectacular waterfalls and through some of the most spectacular gorges in the ranges. At the end of the first week, a helicopter brings in the food for the second half of the trip. Scenic flights will be available at an additional charge.
During the second week, you will walk through more spectacular gorge country in the northern part of the range before finishing on a gravel road where a bus picks you up and returns you to Kununurra.
Section One: Mitchell Plateau Airstrip to Donkins Falls – 11 Days
Begin with a flight from Kununurra to the Mitchell Plateau airstrip where you hop into a helicopter and fly straight to the top of Mitchell Falls. Walking upstream along the Mitchell River, eventually you reach a spectacular but little known gorge and waterfall not shown on any map. The next segment of the walk takes you to the headwaters of Donkins Creek. Finally you break into the open and reach a campsite about a kilometre above Donkins Falls.
Section Two: Donkins Hill, the Hunter River and the Unknown – 12 Days
The area around Donkins Hill is extremely broken and slow going but the north end of the mountain is home to a number of interesting art sites so you’ll get dropped off there and spend the rest of the day exploring.
Section Three: Lower Mitchell River and Western Gorge – Eight Days
This section begins with a helicopter flight to a place they call the Western Gorge, a shadier and narrower gorge than anything else we know of in the area. You’ll spend the rest of the day exploring it before heading across to the Mitchell River.
Section One: The Bungle Bungles – Seven Days
The start of the walk is about 330 kilometres from Kununurra, the last 80 kilometres is a four wheel drive track. The drive takes most of the day but you should arrive in time to walk the first few kilometres up Piccaninny Creek.
Section Two: The Cockburn Range – Seven Days
The Cockburn Range is a relatively small plateau surrounded by massive cliffs. The heavily dissected plateau hides deep gorges and spring fed creeks.
Section Three: The Carr Boyd Range – Five Days
Located south of Kununurra, between Lake Argyle in the east and the Dunham River in the west, the peaks and cliffs of the Carr Boyds.
Section Four: Keep River National Park – Five Days
Nestled next to the border on the Victoria Highway, Keep River is geologically part of the Kimberley, the orange and grey banding on the rocks cause some to compare it to a smaller version of the Bungles.
Section Five: Ord River Canoe – Four Days
Four days are spent doing a leisurely paddle back to Kununurra from Lake Argyle; stopping to do a few day walks up into the hills through which you are passing.
Drysdale River National Park is the largest and least accessible in the Kimberley. This inaccessibility is the key to one of the park’s main attractions — few introduced pests and an ecology that remains relatively undisturbed in comparison to much of the rest of Australia. It is usually easy to spot freshwater crocodiles in the pools below Solea Falls. Fishing is excellent, at its best below the falls.
There are many long pools on the Drysdale, so long that they can be used to land float planes. We plan to fly in and land above Solea Falls and fly out from a pool below the falls. Spend about a week making your way along the Drysdale River, stopping to explore a number of side creeks and climb the nearby hills. Moving more quickly would deny us the time to properly enjoy the variety of vegetation, gorges, beautiful pools and Aboriginal paintings. This section will include Solea Falls itself, a great campsite with great views over the river below.
Beyond the Drysdale, you have a choice of two routes. The guide will discuss these with the group and make the decision based on the interests and abilities of the group members.
Section One: Darwin to Kununurra – Three Days
Darwin to the Victoria River Roadhouse where you spend your first night. You will explore an almost unknown waterfall where there is a cool rock shelter and some Aboriginal paintings.
Section Two: Hidden Valleys – Two Days
Begin with a day walk along a creek and through their own Hidden Valley near town, stopping to view some Aboriginal paintings and enjoy swimming in a lovely pool. The next day, a short four wheel drive and walk brings you to Andy’s Chasm.
Section Three: Deception Range – Two Days
The following day, a relatively short drive and a three to five kilometre walk brings you to a pool in an area which bears a striking resemblance to the Bungle Bungles.
Section Four: Ord River Canoe – Five Days
At Lake Argyle you will put the canoes in the river just below the main dam for a five day leisurely paddle back to Kununurra.
Section Five: Keep River National Park – Four Days
Nestled next to the Western Australian border on the Victoria Highway, Keep River is one of the least known jewels of the Northern Territory Parks system.
This is longest and most comprehensive trip on the Gibb River Road, the one that best shows you all that the area has to offer. No other tour operator will take you to many of the places that Willis’s Walkabouts visit as many of them can only be reached on walks of two days or more. This is also the easiest Kimberley trip they offer.
You will visit the Lennard Gorge which is bounded by the highest cliffs you will encounter on the trip. You will do a long day walk there, along a ridge and down to the end of the gorge, returning either along the opposite side or by swimming through.
Other gorges you will visit include the Moll Gorge, Sir John Gorge, Diamond Gorge, Manning Gorge and the Upper Isdell Gorge. All feature beautiful scenery.
Section One: Lower Mitchell and the Western Gorge – Seven Days
The trip begins with a flight from Kununurra to the Mitchell Plateau. You will spend the rest of the week exploring the Mitchell River below the main falls and the Western Gorge, a shadier and narrower gorge than anything else you encounter on the trip.
Section Two: Donkins Falls and the Upper Mitchell – Eight Days
A helicopter will pick you up and take you to Donkins Creek. You will set up a base camp near the landing point and spend the rest of the day exploring the nearby rock shelters and the area above Donkins Falls which plunges over 100 metres into a narrow gorge.
On the third day, you break camp and head upstream through a small gorge. The walking here is slow with a number of small climbs and a substantial amount of rock-hopping.
Spend the next couple of days working your way along the Mitchell River to the main Mitchell Falls. There are numerous Aboriginal art sites, some of which require small detours. As always, there are many inviting pools so there are ample opportunities for swim stops.
From $2450 to $5000
This is a major expedition at a testing but spectacular time of year. Good physical and mental fitness and the ability to swim at least 100 metres unaided are absolutely essential.
The flight, approximately 350 kilometres, takes you across Cambridge Gulf, Drysdale River National Park, the Carson and King Edward Rivers. You will also fly over the Mitchell Falls so that you get to see them from the air as well as from the ground.
If time permits, you will then drop down to the seven kilometre stretch of Mitchell River between the upper and lower falls. A wealth of known Aboriginal art sites and the potential for new discoveries amongst the stony outcrops make this section of particular interest.
You begin the walk on the west side of the Mitchell River; and end it on the east. Somewhere you have to cross. If water levels permit it, you will float your packs across one of the deep pools where the river moves at its slowest. If not, they will use a satellite phone to call in another helicopter to bring you out from wherever the group is able to reach.