Punamii-Uunpuu (Mitchell Falls): Everything You Need To Know
Arguably one of WA’s most impressive waterfalls, Mitchell Falls is a magnificent multi-step waterfall and an incredible sight to see. Located in the Kimberley, either tackle the challenging Mitchell Plateau Track while you detour off the Gibb River Road or see it from the sky; it’s well worth the adventure and effort to see this beautiful natural wonder for yourself.
What is it?
Punamii-Uunpuu (Mitchell Falls) is a spectacular four-tiered waterfall. Venture out to the remote Mitchell Plateau in the Kimberley to see water cascading down the rugged escarpment from pool to pool of deep, emerald-green water, spilling over a total height of 80 metres, and soak up the breathtaking views. Nearby you’ll also find incredible rock art sites and picturesque swimming spots.
Where is it?
Located in the Mitchell River National Park in the Kimberley, this beauty requires a bit of effort to get to but it’s well worth it! Pack the 4WD (high clearance needed) and hit the Gibb River Road. About 240 kilometres along the Gibb from Kununurra, or 416 kilometres from Derby, you’ll find the junction to Kalumburu Road. Turn off there to get to the Mitchell Plateau Track (Port Warrender Road) and the Mitchell Falls Campground. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time into a prehistoric looking landscape as you tackle the rough Port Warrender Road while it narrowly winds through towering Livistona palms and spectacular scenery. Word of warning: this track can be very rough, heavily corrugated and slow going (our tip: you can leave your camper trailer or anything you’re towing at Drysdale River Station for a small fee. The station also has fuel, supplies, tyres, campsites and tours to Mitchell Falls). Another great way to see this waterfall is from the sky, with a number of scenic flight options available.
What to do?
Pack your hiking shoes:
This incredible waterfall is the reward for tackling the somewhat challenging 4.3 km trek from the campground that involves some rock hopping. Once there you can soak up the sights from a number of vantage points while listening to the roar of the falls as they cascade from pool to pool.
While swimming is not allowed beneath the falls, you can swim in the pool above the falls. There are also some great sights and swimming spots on the trail to the falls. About 800m from the campground you’ll come across Little Mertens Falls, a picturesque spot with natural spas and incredible Gwion Gwion artwork on the gorge walls beneath the falls. Further along you’ll find Mertens Gorge, a spectacular waterfall that cascades into a deep pool below.
Take to the sky:
Hop on a scenic flight (helicopter or light aircraft) from a number of locations across the Kimberley including Broome, Drysdale River Station, and Kununurra to check out this incredible sight from the sky. Flights can also be booked via the Kununurra Visitor Centre as well as at the Mitchell Falls campground.
The closest place to stay is the Mitchell Falls campground; there’s plenty of room with both generator and non-generator areas, toilet facilities and you’ll find the start of the trail nearby. For those wanting a little bit more luxury, go glamping at the nearby Mitchell Falls Wilderness Lodge. Another option is to stay at Munurru (King Edward River) and drive to the falls for a day trip. The Munurru campground is a fab place to stay and it’s not only close to great swimming spots but also incredible rock art sites with Gwion Gwion and Wandjina rock art styles.
What not to do:
Take any risks:
Carry plenty of water. Parts of the trail are exposed to the sun with little shade so pack your hat and eco-friendly sunscreen. Watch your step along the cliff’s edge by the falls.
Make sure you’re fully equipped and self-sufficient for a remote trip. Stock up with plenty of water, food and fuel before you leave Broome, Derby or Kununurra as there are limited options along the Gibb on the way to Mitchell Falls. You can find fuel and limited supplies at Drysdale River Station. Drive slowly and to the conditions. The track to Mitchell Falls can be rough and unforgiving so make sure your vehicle or off-road trailer can survive the rough, corrugated unsealed road.
To access Mitchell Falls and other great sights on Wunambal Gaambera Country, including Munurru (King Edward River), you’ll need an Uunguu Visitor Pass before arriving which can be purchased online here.
Punamii-Uunpuu (Mitchell Falls) is a culturally significant place for the Wunambal people. The falls and deep pools below are said to be home to Wunggurr, powerful creator snakes, therefore visitors are asked not to swim below the falls. It’s also not recommended to swim below the falls due to the presence of saltwater (estuarine) crocodiles.
If you’re not up for a return hike you can walk to the falls and then take a helicopter flight to return to the campground (or the reverse!). This way you not only get to see this spectacular sight from a bird’s eye view, but also get to explore from the ground and check out the incredible spots along the trail to the falls and see it from both perspectives.
The best time to visit is in the dry season (April to October). The road to Mitchell Falls is inaccessible in the Wet Season and road reopening dates vary from year to year. Derby Visitor Centre provides regular updates about road openings and closures. The Mitchell Falls track (Port Warrender Road) is non-gazetted – so if you’re in a hire car make sure your insurance covers you before you go!
Mitchell National Park is part of the traditional lands of the Worrora, Wunambal-Gaambera and Ngarinyin people.
Away with CJ
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All research & words by our North-West correspondent @alex.vp.photography (give her a follow on Instagram).