The Munja Track to Walcott Inlet - an experience like no other!
November 27, 2018 • Katie Hart
15 min read
Want to get away from the crowds on the Gibb River Road? Fancy experiencing a part of Australia that few others do? Looking for a 4WD challenge? The Munja Track to Walcott Inlet should definitely be on your list!
Where is the Munja Track?
The Munja Track runs for 220 km from Mount Elizabeth Station, which you’ll find located 30 km off the Gibb River Road, in the Kimberley, WA. The track is tough, slow-going and remote, with some of the most spectacular scenery and Indigenous rock art that we’ve seen on our travels.
The 220km is clearly split into two sections – the first 145 km to Bachsten Creek Bush Camp, the only paid camp along the track, running along the private track established by Ric and Ann Jane. Ann is the daughter of Frank Lacey, who took up the lease of Mount Elizabeth Station in the 1940s.
The station is now Chinese-owned, but it is being run by an Aussie family (Emma, Luke and their three kids) who have made it a great place to camp in the bush, alongside chickens and peacocks, before and after the track. Make sure you check out Wunnumurra Gorge on their property. It is stunning!
The first section is made accessible at the end of every wet season by Rick and Ann, using a tractor to sculpt the ingresses and egresses of creeks and springs. It can take them a couple of weeks to get into the Bachsten camp area, depending on the extent of the last wet. Ric regularly gets bogged even with the tractor and they end up camped out until they can free up the tractor. This year they arrived to find the camp having been partially burnt down by a bushfire, so getting it back up and running took an enormous effort.
The last 74 km of the track runs between the Edkins and Harding Ranges, and through Aboriginal land, ending where the Charnley River meets Walcott Inlet. Munja Station in the early 1900s was a leprosy quarantine area but has been deserted for years. Little remains of the old settlement now, mother nature has all but taken over.
The road less travelled
Our journey started in September, towards the end of the dry season. We had many discussions on whether we should take our camper trailer in, after many strong recommendations to the contrary. However, the closer we got along the Gibb River Road the more confident we got, and we encountered the odd traveller telling us they’d seen other camper trailers in there, or at least at the Bachsten Creek Bush Camp. We were given even more confidence by one group who advised that, if we could get the trailer into Bachsten’s, we could easily get the trailer into Walcott inlet.
We arrived at Mount Elizabeth Station still with questions on how we were going to tackle this track. We looked into the option of cabin accommodation at the Bachsten Creek Bush Camp and then even driving out to Walcott overnight and sleeping in the car with the kids! But, we kept coming back to the fact that the Kimberley Kamper is built for this sort of stuff. We went over and over our options. Emma, who runs Mt Elizabeth Station, told us that a few campers with trailers had been in and out without any major damage recently. So, it was decided…We’d take it head-on, camper trailer in tow!
Another little niggle in my head was the fact that our food stocks were running low. We had left Kalumburu a couple of days earlier thinking that we would be able to re-stock properly at the small supermarket there. However, we didn’t realise that the barge only comes in once every two weeks. I thought it was every week! When we left Kalumburu we were still thinking we might only be on the track for two or three nights, then heading to Mount Barnett Roadhouse to stock up. The revised plan was to get into and out of Walcott Inlet over about six days. Lucky we still had some Spanish Mackerel in the fridge from Kalumburu!
Mount Elizabeth Station to Bachsten Creek Bush Camp
After strategising a lot of the night about how we would make it with the least amount of damage, we decided to lose some weight off the trailer. We got up early the next morning and off-loaded our tinnie, bike rack, bikes, boxes off the roof etc, altogether about 200kg. Emma and Luke kindly let us leave everything there without charge.
We paid our dues (see below) at reception and picked up a step-by-step guide from Emma on the track. The incredibly detailed, double-sided sheet takes you through each of the jump-ups and creek crossings and their rough km from the station, which makes it a little less daunting. With my heart a little jumpy and a strange feeling of impending doom, we drove away from the homestead and out on the Munja Track.
The first section was pretty straight-forward. We crossed paths with Ric and Ann, the owners of Bachsten’s, early on the track and stopped for a chat on the condition of the track. They reassured us that getting in and out with the trailer was possible. They advised us to use our radio at the start and during each jump-up to make sure that we didn’t encounter someone coming the opposite direction. Note – this ONLY works if others have a radio and are scanning to pick up the channel you communicate on!
Our first big challenge was Magpie jump-up, 66kms into the track. We had heard that this was the hardest part of track. We jumped on the UHF and gave a shout-out…no response. Good to go! We primed the hand-held radios, I exited the car and we all ventured slowly down the steep, rocky slope. Inch by inch instructions were exchanged over the handhelds on where to position tyres to avoid sharp rocks and bottoming out.
So much for the shout-out earlier – about half way down we encountered another car coming in the opposite direction. Not ideal! After some tricky manoeuvring on his part (he wasn’t towing), we managed to pass without incident and made it to the bottom of the jump-up. My heart became a little less jumpy after that!
My spirits rose slightly. If this was the hardest section, then we would make it unscathed, if I spotted well on jump-ups and we took it slowly. We stopped for lunch on a riverbed and tackled Fig Tree jump-up before setting up camp for the night, under the stars with no-one around but the cows.
The next day saw us tackling the next 60-odd km to Bachsten’s camp. This section includes crossing several creeks and traversing a few springs, which can get a bit boggy. With no issues, we arrived early afternoon to camp, allowing us time to explore the area. Bachsten Falls are simply spectacular – some of the best that we’ve seen. You can climb down to the bottom pools and have a well-earned dip, or, if you don’t want to walk all the way down, you can swim at the river just up from camp on the way back. Bachsten Creek Bush Camp is one of our favourites on our trip so far. Janet and Peter, along with Ric and Ann, have created a little oasis in the middle of the bush.
Bachsten Creek Bush Camp to Walcott Inlet
Days 3 and 4
Who said Magpie jump-up was the hardest section?! The day started off with tackling the Wren Gorge jump-up. It’s the longest of the jump-ups and arguably a lot more challenging than Magpie. Wren Gorge itself is stunning! Look out for the stack of rocks on the right-hand side of the track that indicates where to walk into the gorge. The rock art here is excellent.
After crossing the Calder River, the track changes from the rocky ups and downs to flatter, grassy land. Be prepared though, the grass can be higher than the vehicle along most of the track. The recommendation is to cover your front grill with some hessian or shade cloth to prevent the spores from getting into the radiator. If you do get them in there, Peter recommends blowing them out before you next wash the car as they can go as hard as a rock and then be impossible to get out!
This section of the track is slow going, you really can’t see very far ahead of the vehicle. Be aware of how hot your exhaust gets. With the high grass, the risk of a fire is high and an uncontrolled grass fire in this area could be devastating.
David Attenborough eat your heart out!
On arrival at Walcott Inlet, you are met by one of the most spectacular views that you’ve ever seen! It is SO well worth the effort to get there. The 12m tides rush in an out of this inlet at a rate of knots. The noise can be quite eerie when you first hear it, especially during the still nights.
The wildlife is incredible! Thousands of mullet literally run on top of the water to escape the barramundi, straight into the waiting beaks of the jabirus and spoonbills, who attack with stealth-like precision. It’s like the birds and fish work together to maximise their food!
The enormous pelicans work in teams to herd up the mullet too. It’s like watching sheep dogs work! The mammoth crocs covertly patrol their patch, making a quick meal of any barramundi that gets in their path. The jaw snaps can be heard across the other side of the river. Kangaroos the size of small cars graze on the opposite bank in the Aboriginal reserve.
We spent that evening sitting on the bank, 12m up from the water, watching a David Attenborough documentary unfold in real life. The kids had lines in trying to catch barra but were unsuccessful. Honestly, why would a barra want to eat a plastic or some smelly catfish when they have so many mullet to feast on?! The sharks, however, were a little different! They snagged a few, along with a couple of muddies. None made it up the 12m high bank though!
Sunset and sunrise produce some stunning light on the mud banks. It truly is a photographer’s paradise! We spent 2 nights here and could have spent many more, but dwindling food stocks meant we needed to head back. Shame we didn’t catch any barra!
We shared the inlet with only one other vehicle on our first night, but we had it all to ourselves the second – absolute peace and quiet, miles from anyone. It was an absolute highlight of our trip and we all agreed that we’d be back one day, maybe with a high-sided tinnie!
Walcott Inlet to Bachsten’s
The drive back was so much easier than coming in – we were confident that there were no hidden rocks or termite mounds in the edge of the grass track. We had a great run, until we drove through the last waterhole just before reaching camp. A very strange noise started coming from under the car. We couldn’t check it out too well on the track; no lights were up on the dash, the car was working fine, we figured nothing major could be wrong.
Back at camp the high life jack came out for the first time on the trip. The noise turned out to be something that we didn’t want to hear – The Munja Track had struck again! We had torn the exhaust away from the turbo. Ouch! After much deliberation, a conversation on the radio with Ric, a man with much bush mechanical experience and a phone call (lucky we had a sat phone) to our mechanic mate, we established that the car was still driveable. However, we really didn’t want to get water into the turbo. Thank god we didn’t need a tow out of there! We didn’t tell our mate that we had about six water crossings to do before we got into Mount Elizabeth Station! The trepidation began to set in again.
We spent the night back at camp, where Janet and Peter shared wine and homemade beer with us (we ran out of alcohol along the Gibb River Road!) and presented the boys with a pack of sausages. Totally made our day! And, some wonderful people from Perth gave us some of their left-over green chicken curry, some oranges and biscuits for the boys, which meant that we were stocked up again! And ready to face the last leg of the journey!
What an amazing few days! We had experienced something very few get to and we’d done it towing the trailer, like we wanted to. The family, the Prado and the Kimberley Kamper, had risen to the challenge!
Bachsten Creek Bush Camp to Mount Elizabeth Station
We left Bachsten’s with the intention of staying somewhere on the track. However, we made excellent time on the way back, despite stopping at each water crossing to check levels and building bridges to keep the turbo out of the water. At one stage, we had all 4 Maxtrax off the car, lining them up, as well as a few logs and rocks, to keep above the water level. The jump-ups were much easier going the other way and we knew what to expect on the track.
We bee-lined it to Mount Elizabeth Station, arriving after dark. We were exhausted, but grateful to have made it without further damage. The Munja Track is a true adventure! It is something that none of us will ever forget and we will be back.
Camping on the Munja Track
You can set up and free camp anywhere on the track between the Drysdale River and Walcott Inlet. You won’t see many others on the track, so you’ll get peace and quiet wherever you set up. Bachsten Creek Bush Camp is the only paid campsite on the track. It is one of the most well-loved campsites that we have come across in our 10 months of travelling. Some great shaded kitchen areas, unlimited water, donkey showers, spotlessly clean toilets, raked campsites. Janet and Peter, the caretakers, have been here during the tourist season for nearly 10 years and for them it’s like home. Janet even baked us some amazing bread! Camping costs $20pp per night, with kids above pre-school age $10pp. It’s well worth the money for the experience and the respite!
Books to read on the area
Last horse Standing – Mike Keenan (An easy read. Describes Walcott perfectly and gives great insight into what the area would be like in the build-up/wet) The Rivers of Home: Frank Lacy – Kimberley Pioneer – Marion Nixon (Tells of how Frank came to the area and his life there)
Cost for the track
$150 for the track access ($100 goes to Bush Track Safaris for opening the track at the beginning of the season and production of the track guides and $50 to Mt Elizabeth Station for access and maintenance of their section of the track and admin). $50 refundable deposit for gate access via Mount Elizabeth Station.
Key points of advice
Use a UHF radio and keep scanning to communicate with others on the track. Radio each time you come to the start of a jump-up or spring area where the track is narrow to advise others you’re coming. If others are scanning it won’t matter which channel you’re on. Stock up on water and food for longer than you think. Stay away from the edges of the banks in case they collapse! Watch out for those crocs! Camp up away from the mangroves to avoid high tide lapping at your feet in middle of the night. And inquisitive crocs! If you take a tinnie, be prepared to take it out each night. The tides are huge. Drive to conditions and take your time. Allow a good 6+ days if you can. Enjoy this amazing part of the country for what it is – a remote wilderness at its best.