What makes a track iconic ?
Is it the location, the remoteness and isolation along the way or maybe the history of the track ?. Well, I reckon I found a track that has all that plus more.
The Karunjie Track in the far north of WA was once used by drovers over 100 years ago to move cattle across the Kimberley area from the south, up to Wyndham for export and slaughter.
My journey started at the end of the Gibb River Road where I had spent several days at the beautiful Home Valley Station on Balanggarra country. Now Home Valley is located right on the iconic Pentecost River where big Crocs and big Barra are found, they have two camp areas, a great bar and grill plus they offer tours onto country with traditional owners showing off their stunning waterfalls, rock art with a backdrop of the majestic Cockburn Ranges.
I spent several nights at each of their campgrounds, one being right near the homestead and the other on the Pentecost River near Bindoola Creek.
Leaving Home Valley Station it was only about 10 km before I was parked and standing in front of the wide Pentecost River crossing. At several hundred metres across and with the thought of estuarine crocs lurking about, I wasn’t really going to walk this crossing.
Generally speaking, the Pentecost has a hard rocky base and if the water isn’t too deep most 4wds, tour buses and trucks travel across safely in the dry season. On the eastern side of the river, it's where the blacktop starts ( or stops - depending on your direction ) on the Gibb River Road all the way towards the east coast. The Pentecost River was named in 1882 by expedition leader Michael Durack who was surveying the river.
THE KARUNJIE TRACK
My last piece of exploring the east Kimberley's would have me cross the mighty Pentecost River and I would turn left to follow the river along the 80 km long Karunjie Track. At the start of the track, it's a popular free camp spot where travellers pull up either before or after tackling the Gibb River Road.
People fish for Barra, take in the stunning views of the Cockburn Ranges or just relax on the river. We not only caught some Barra here but also happened to catch a couple of endangered Saw Fish.
The Karunjie Track is an old stock route used when drovers moved cattle from the south and Kimberley area up to Wyndham. Today in the dry season it's a remote 4WD track that isn’t maintained for its length. Starting at the Pentecost River it's slow going for the first 20km following the maze of tracks that had deep ruts and washed-out sections.
It was hard to keep our eyes on the road as we followed the river passing beautiful old boab trees and the majestic Cockburn Ranges to our right. The first gate you pass through signifies private property until you reach the end of the track, all owned by El Questro station
Once down onto the huge moonscape-like floodplains, the track became like a highway where it was nice to pick up some speed. These massive floodplains become impassable quagmire lakes in the wet season where trying to attempt crossing here would be simply impossible and stupid.
With a stunning mountainous backdrop, the moonscape seemed to be in proportion to its surroundings. A quirky fact is that this area had been used in several scenes for the film Australia, and it wasn’t long before the flats gave way to some higher rocky country and the boundary gate that was the end of the Karunjie Track. Officially no camping is allowed between the two gates, only near the Pentecost River as it is still a working cattle station.
Once we passed through the last gate this was now called the King River Road, where if you turn left it will take you to Diggers Rest campgrounds or straight on towards Wyndham. Not far down the King road, a brown historical marker caught my eye and we swung in for a look.
This POI was the infamous Boab River Tree, also known as Hillgrove Lockup. Way back in 1890 it was hollowed out and used as a holding cell for Aboriginal prisoners on their way to Wyndham for trial, where they made the prisoners get inside the tree overnight. Used for about 30 years, the inside of the tree was dry during storms so the police officers would gather inside while leaving the prisoners chained up outside under guard. Putting the grim history aside, this Boab Tree is huge estimated to be around 1500 years old with massive branches hanging low and a girth of about 12 metres. Signatures and dates are carved in the tree from 130 years ago.
Crossing the King River the next point of call was Moochalabra Dam and cave rock art just 10 mins down the road. All through the top end, rock art tells a story of families, local animals and passing trade. At Moochalabra Dam it’s no different and the more you look the more you can find up on the rock ceilings and walls where a huge variety of animals, hand prints and shapes can be found. This site is important to the Balanggara people where there are depictions of Wandjina Spirit ancestors all painted with natural ochres found in the cliffs.
Sitting quietly looking at the art, and down below towards the Boab trees and waterholes, it's a peaceful place where one can only imagine how life was here. Moochalabra Dam is a further 5km up the road where you can laze around with a picnic and watch for birds, especially the Goulian Finch.
Back on the King River Road for about 30km, following the King River passing through areas of thick plain grass and more salt pans, you’ll come onto the road between Wyndham and Kununurra.
My journey was to end at the beautiful old town of Wyndham where I wanted to see where the Pentecost River starts its journey in the Cambridge Gulf. The best viewing point is up at the 5 Rivers lookout about 15 minutes out of town.
From this stunning lookout, there are 5 rivers that drain into the gulf, being the Pentecost, Durack, King, Forrest and Old Rivers. Down below the lookout sits Wyndham Port where the drovers used to move their cattle along the Karunjie Track. Established in 1885, the port was a hub with slaughterhouses, a freight centre and just near the original town of Wyndham.
While a new town has been moved away from Wyndham port, the waterways are still used for the export of fuel, freight, live cattle and occasionally a cruise ship.
Now while the Karunjie Track may only be 80km long, it's a fascinating area to explore and to really get off the beaten track to see the real east Kimberley area. So yes, I would call this an iconic track with its stunning views, the sheer remoteness and isolation of the track plus the history along the way.
The Old Karunjie Track is 80 km long and runs between the Pentecost River on the Gibb River Road and to Wyndham in WA’s far north. This remote dry season track was once a stock route where drovers moved their cattle to Wyndham for export or slaughter. Today is a beautiful drive between the magnificent Cockburn Ranges and the mighty Pentecost River. The Old Karunjie Track joins onto the King River road at the Wyndham end.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Apart from the stunning views towards the Cockburn Ranges and along the Pentecost River, the drive across the huge mud flats will have you spellbound on just how much water floods this area in the wet season, there’s the aboriginal rock art to admire, a picnic up near Moochalabra Dam or delving into the history at the Prison Boab Tree and at Wyndham. Don’t forget there’s some of the best Barra fishing in the mighty Pentecost River in WA.
The most important thing to remember in this area is that it can be very dangerous with huge estuarine crocs in the rivers, travelling in a very remote area and only travel the old Karunjie track in the dry season. The Track is unmaintained but easy to follow, leave gates as you find them. No camping is allowed between the two signed gates, however, camping is allowed at the Pentecost River Crossing at the end of the Gibb River Road, at nearby Home Valley Station, Diggers Rest camp or Wyndham caravan park.