Cockburn Ranges alternate view (Karunjie Road)

by Stuart Minetti
(Melbourne, Vic, Aust)

King River Road start

King River Road start

King River Road start Cockburn Ranges with gate Cockburn Ranges view 2 Cockburn Ranges view 3

We have just completed a whirlwind "snapshot" tour of Kakadu, some of Kimberleys and the WA coast in Aug/Sep 2010. 10, 400km from Melbourne including "The Ghan" in 28 days. Many highlights, but I just wanted to give readers a view from the other side of the Cockburn Ranges.

When planning our trip I took a lot of Birgit's advice and this included a trip from Kununurra via Parry Creek Road to Wyndham and then via King River Road, Karunjie Road and Gibb River Road to Emma Gorge.

Setting off along the King River Road is a breeze and getting to the Boab Prison Tree a simple task. Then onwards toward Diggers Rest Station where you meet the "gateway" to the Karunjie Road.

Now calling it a road is indeed a misuse of the word; track is a more apt description. I am an inexperienced 4WD driver, but trusted that everything would be okay and it was, but wow what a ride. We had everything except mud and snow. To the usual corrugations add ruts of every shape and size, wet and dry creek crossings, rocks of all sizes, very long, very deep sand drifts, floodplains, massive heat shimmer (for effect only of course), gates galore to open and close, wild life of all types, Brahman bulls to negotiate - the list goes on.

The first 27 km to the track is done in easy and quick time; the trip across the floodplains was easy @ 80kph and yet the entire trip took 3 hours and I was pretty well exhausted, but it was worth it. Pictures of the Cockburn Ranges from the "other side" from the normal Gibb River Road view were great.

I would recommend the trip to anyone but would also suggest you go prepared for a rocking and rolling ride, be well prepared for anything, don't go alone and enjoy something I'm guessing is more akin to how things used to be before tourism took over.

For the record the Bungles Road, although not simple, is quite easy compared with this track.

Comments for Cockburn Ranges alternate view (Karunjie Road)

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Karunjie Road
by: Birgit

Hi Stuart,
Thanks for your report. Love it to get a different view! And it's great to see that people do get off the beaten track, even on whirlwind tours.
Glad you enjoyed the track. I love that corner, too. Just like you said, it gives you an idea of what the Kimberley used to be like only a few years ago.

Another vote for reducing tyre pressures
by: Birgit

My last two newsletters (archived back issues here and here) talked a lot about safe driving on the Gibb and tyre pressures.

In response I received another email from Stuart, which I thought I'd add here:

"I'm sure you've heard more than enough about tyre pressures, but I just have to thank you for your excellent advice. On our trip to Kimberley in Aug-10 I followed your advice to the letter. Never had a single problem, always lowered tyre pressure by 30% and never drove above 80kph, usually much slower.

You may vaguely recall my post on the Karunje Road. Tough little drive but following your advice I had no problems. Was interesting to note like other people that when I reached Gibb River Road the speed of others was astounding. I stuck to my 80kph and again just didn't have any problems.

Rather dismaying that I never saw any other vehicles stop to lower or restore pressure. All just drove on past onto/off bitumen. Ah well, they'll be the losers.

Incidentally I drove a Freelander 2 with original 19" tyres and I got away with it because of your advice.

Best regards,
Stuart Minetti

Aye Karunjie!
by: Lars Wetselaar

Yep, took this 'alternate' route on August 24th 2011, from Whyndam to Gibb River Road in a Nissan Pathfinder, by myself and what a ride!!

No part of it prepares you for the next. From rough and slow through endless gates (stopped wearing seat belt), to the 'amazing' esturine flats (yes, that heat shimmer gets your attention!) where you could set a land speed record, then it suddenly gets filthy. Really had to be on my game, but what fun.

I'd recommend it to anyone who really wants a challenging driving experience with some spectacular views of the Compton Ranges that you won't get on a main road.

My ice box ended up smelling like a cross between a brewery and a yogurt factory as everything got tossed around.

Next time I'd do it the opposite way.

Karunjie Track
by: Jürgen Reissig

Hello Birgit, or Guten Tag Birgit,

I have read alot of the GRR, and finally I decided to do it.

Flying from Frankfurt to Darwin, and then driving to Kununura, further to Wyndham,and on to Diggers Rest. Lunch at the Station, and overnight Camping at the banks of the Kings River.

The Stations owner told me that the Karunjie Track would be open, and it would be no problem to do it.

I started July 30th, 2009 at 7:00 in the morning. Everything looked good but after passing the Marsh, with the view of the Cockburn Ranges to my left, my travel ended at a fence with a gate with a big lock!

No way to go around, nor find another Track?
This was the end of my Dream, doing the Karunjie Track!

Driving all the way back to Wyndham further on to an overcrowded El Questo station, where I stayed over night.

What was wrong, I do not know. But since then I always think of it, and still wonder if I should try again, on my next trip to Australia ?

Jürgen Reissig

Definitely Try Again
by: Birgit

Hi Jürgen,

I have no idea what went wrong there, and I can't tell from what you write where exactly that gate would have been. I imagine you would have had to take a wrong turn somewhere to end up there, but who knows.

Of course you should try again if you're in the area again!

news report
by: Anonymous

Two Swiss tourists missing in the remote north of the State have been found after walking for nearly three days when their vehicle became bogged.

(...) were due to check out of their accommodation on Sunday morning, but failed to arrive.

The Swiss nationals arrived in town on Friday and were driving a hired white Toyota Prado 4WD.

A search began on Sunday.

They were found by two Wyndham residents on the Gibb River Road, about 5km east of the Pentecost River, about 100km from Kununurra.

Police said the pair bogged their 4WD vehicle on the Karunje Track on Saturday and walked along the Pentecost River to the Gibb River Road, which they had started to walk along.
They were taken to the Kununurra Police Station by their rescuers and will now be taken to the Kununurra District Hospital for medical check-ups.

Karunjie News Report
by: Birgit

They were on the Karunjie Track in January? Who on earth told them that would be a good idea? I know it's not closed right now, but still... That is not the time of the year for inexperienced tourists to head bush up north!

more on rescued tourists
by: Anonymous

It gets better...

After being stranded for more than three days in bush near Kununurra after their hired four-wheel-drive vehicle became bogged on the remote Karunjie Track on Saturday, (...) were found about 8.45am yesterday, walking on the Gibb River Road.

Police started searching for the tourists early on Monday after staff at the Kununurra Country Club Resort, where they had been staying, raised the alarm on Sunday night.

The couple had been expected to check out on Sunday morning but police then learnt the pair had not been seen since Saturday morning.

(...) had planned a day trip from the North West town on Saturday and told police they drove to Wyndham and headed along the King River Road before turning on to the Karunjie Track - an unmaintained stock route.


The Swiss tourists had tied clothes around their bare feet to protect them from the rocky, hot ground and collected river water to drink while walking about 75km for help in 40C heat.

Toni Eckel and her fiance Damian Day, who were unaware of the search for the tourists, came across the pair about 100km from Kununurra as they headed to the Pentecost River to fish.

Hungry, thirsty, sunburnt and covered in insect bites, the Augsburgers were extremely happy and relieved to be found.

The Augsburgers had planned a day trip from the North West town on Saturday and told police they drove to Wyndham and headed along the King River Road before turning on to the Karunjie Track - an unmaintained stock route.

Somewhere in the middle of a salt marsh the couple's Toyota Prado became bogged and they tried to walk for help, following the Pentecost River.

Police think they may have had a tourist map but it appeared they had little food and water and had no emergency positioning beacon.

(...) lost his shoes in the water and his wife's thongs did not survive the rocky track.

by: Birgit

I don't think at all that the situation would have warranted the use of an EPB and a big rescue operation. All they would have needed is some help to get out of the bog. A sat phone would have been useful.
Or just following the simple rule: always tell someone where you are going and when you intend to be back.
(If they had told someone where they want to go, someone hopefully would have stopped them from going in the first place...)
And what about asking locals about current road conditions? That's another thing I tend to preach.

I've been in a similar situation myself: wet season, remote track, and the car solidly bogged. One phone call and one carton of beer solved the problem.
(Would also like to point out, I was not behind the wheel :-))

Well, while it seems that they simply had no idea what they were doing, no information about the region, the driving, the climate or anything, the truth is, we have no idea about their background, their preparation, or what prompted them to drive along that remote track at that time of the year. I'm glad they got away with a big fright.

It's stories like this that scare people away from doing independent trips in the region. Yet as long as you educate yourself some beforehand and follow a few simple guidelines, it really is no problem.

Pumping Station
by: DP

I drove to the old pumping station & boab tree in a Datsun Blue Bird sedan, no problem. Time of year August, travelling slowly, enjoyed all the scenery and the water supply dam. Returned to Wyndham same way. . No 4x4, no speeding, no dramas. Also did Timber Creek to VRD, Top Springs & back to Katherine..Travelled the Gibb River road in a later vehicle and, like the other comments above had no trouble. Max speed about 70, plenty to see and just poked along enjoying the experience. At home valley station enquired about this track to Wyndham & they said they use sometimes in the dry season but usually go to Kununurra for business.

No probs
by: Anonjacymous

We did this trip in 2014, only struck one gate and no sand drifts but very rough. We have a well prepared truck and went alone towing an off-road camper and no problems. Three hours seems a bit quick to us, we took almost five, lots of washaways and dry creek crossings and the Gibb end is quite rocky. Just after the gate at the eastern end we met a couple coming the other way. They had taken about the same time as we eventually did but thought we may have problems towing the trailer but it was easy as long as you drive to the conditions and are well prepared. We carry a full recovery kit and hf radio and have a fair bit of experience under the belt. The track itself is not well marked and the station staff sometimes divert any traffic by putting little rock "walls" across track and arrow signs to prevent travelers spooking cattle around watering points.
Not recommended for newbies or the unprepared but a great drive for seasoned 4wders.

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