Drysdale River

Drysdale River Station to Bulldust Yards

Unverified! Advanced Wilderness Trip CLASS V

 

The Kimberleys, North East W.A. Gibb River, Kalumburu, Kununurra

Contributed by Rowen Privett

 

Class: I - V (p)

Season: Wet season or early Dry season

Gradient: Fairly gradual the whole way with Solea waterfall and a few large rapids absorbing most of the fall.

Time: 6 - 12 days

Length: Approximately 215km

Level: Wet season = metres over road, dry season = just below road

Gauge: River Crossing at Drysdale River on Kalumburu Road

Shuttle: Wet season = plane, Dry season = long 4WD trip (permit permitting)

Character: Typical isolated 'Top End' river, prone to vagaries of the great Wet. Can be huge volume down to a small creek flow

Suits: Expeditioner style paddler in relevant craft (creeker or raft)

It's one of those classic wilderness paddles.

Drysdale River, Drysdale River Station to Bulldust Yards. Copyright 2008. All Rights Reserved.

Any time in the Kimberleys is time well spent and to see it from the quiet bliss of a river would have to be one of the best ways to see the region. Just rippa. It has many moods ranging from slow flat water half a km wide, or densely overgrown with pandanus trees every few metres, to 12m waterfalls and grade 5 rapids. It's offers the whole spectrum of river features & Kimberley landscape. Perfect for an expedition.
From the put in, the first few days is littered with pandanus trees and the regular grade 2 (maybe 3) rapids.
There are two notable rapids before Croc pool (~8km) and another just after the Gibb River confluence.

We had open canoes which made it harder but a raft or kayak would find the going much easier being more maneuverable and or forgiving. As the trip goes on, you may glimpse a 'freshy' crocodile which are here and there but nothing to worry about.
At some stage a very nasty grade 5 looms up around a left hander. Powerful water and big holes.
They're appeared to maybe be some chicken chutes on river right otherwise portage on river left was straight forward.

At ~ the 145km mark on the right bank, you will reach Bango Creek (as opposed to Banjo Creek near the 100km mark)
This makes a great detour as a couple km's upstream is the beautiful Bango Falls, well worth a gander.
So many of the camping spots are 'beachy' gems right on the waters edge with plenty of good firewood (be careful with fires with so much dry wood around).
Just don't forget to tie your boats up at night incase the headwaters cop a deluge.

We even camped on some high islands for some novelty. Didn't use the sleeping bag once (obviously still pack it though), too warm for that, just make sure that you pack a mozzie net. Another thing to, it's a glorious change to paddling down south when capsizing here doesn't mean a frosty swim, it's actually a welcome cool off. In the later stages of the trip, be on the lookout for aboriginal caves and paintings. There's supposed to be a few aboriginal gems around the creeks at Grid Ref 276.8.373 on Carson map.
After another days meandering or so, you'll be in earshot of Wallis's Peak on a left hand bend in the river. Well worth a gander (add a rock to the cairn). This bend gives you the last rapid for the next 20km before you reach the gorge.
Before you get too concerned, it's a gorge that's well and truly manageable. What you don't want to run is easily portagable (lining, walking the boats or overland). It's mainly a selection of grade 2 - 4 rapids (at the height we caught it at) with Solea Falls (~12m) smack in the middle.
Solea Falls is easy to spot and features a great camping spot on the LHS (where you also portage) on some smooth flat rock overlooking the river. Pearla spot. After the falls, there would be another 8 or so rapids before it all subdues again to where it all flattens out and then carelessly meanders its way to the ocean some 80km's later.
From here, there is no known particular rapids, the landscape not as beautiful and diverse, vertically no access points and .. some of those leather handbags start to appear, so it seemed a good spot to finish the trip. Yep, there is arguably saltie crocs from Solea Falls down (we saw none though) but the presence of Barramundi does indicate the possibility (upstream is mostly Sooty Grunter fish).
In the rapids between Solea Falls and Bulldust Yards, if there was any concern of capsizing, we naturally portaged - taking no risks. Once you reach Bulldust yards (its actually a few km's west but its easy to navigate to), there is an old 4WD track (labeled private) that runs you past Carson River station and out to Kalumburu Road or back to Drysdale station.
Permits etc.

Well, paddling through Drysdale National Park is all good but its how you get on and off the river is where you typically need to be careful. It almost depends on who you talk to as you get many different answers. We liaised with Drysdale River station and they let us camp at the river crossing nearby.
Access/ Permits through Theda station and Carson river station is a no go at the moment, but it seemed OK to walk out along Carson's track to the Kalumburu Road but I'd definitely call ahead and ask (especially of you plan to use a 4WD along this track). The same applies for Kalumburu Aboriginal Corporation where you need a permit to enter, but often they say get one when you're there and you get there & they say 'where's your permit' - go figure?
Once again call ahead and at least 'calm the waters'. Also, it would be in your best interest to check in with Ellenbrae and
Doongan stations as well.

Drysdale River, Drysdale River Station to Bulldust Yards. Copyright 2008. All Rights Reserved.

As far as timing goes that's always the tough one with the wet season.
To us, to catch it on the tail of the wet, with the river being in its splendour but manageable was the way to go...and that we did.but it cost us many flights and a chopper ride out as the roads were still closed. Be careful though as you may incur major flooding. Otherwise, get on the H20 the minute the Gibb River and Kalumburu Road opens (as far as the river crossing anyway), so hopefully the water isn't too low (this is where kayaks may be the better option) and you'll save a few $$$.

Overall, it's a classic wilderness trip that you will thoroughly enjoy. Be prepared and run it smartly and none of the remoteness or rapids should cause any concern. Except for major floods maybe, you can always paddle safely near the bank and stop before/ portage around rapids and minimize the risk. Ensure that you take a mighty comprehensive boat repair kit because the rocks (especially from portaging) and any mishaps can and will cause boat damage.

Don't eat the pandanus fruit, watch out for the copious amounts of bat shit while snoozing and below Solea Falls, be Croc wise (camp 30m from water, no food scraps etc. Ask CALM for advice).
You'll finish the trip with a well earn 't grin and a memory you wont easily forget.

There's nothing too dry about the drysdale..get amongst it.

Putting In: River crossing at Drysdale River on Kalumburu Road

Taking Out: Bulldust Yards or Moonlight Yards

Map: 1:100,000 series includes Carson, Woodhouse, Collison, Drysdale, Ashton

Camping: Great camping all along the river

Entry Date: 27th April 2006

 

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