Karlamilyi is the name given by the indigenous Martu people to the Rudall River that cuts across the National Park, hence the former name of Rudall River National Park that was in place before the area was renamed in 2008. The river was named by the explorer Frank Hann in 1896 after the surveyor William Frederick Rudall whom he met in the area while Hann was prospecting and Rudall was searching for men missing from the Calvert Expedition. The river flows to the north east where it empties into Lake Dora, and from there into the Percival Lakes.
The park includes a diverse range of ancient landscapes, desert scenery and arid zone habitats that includes weathered sandstone escarpments and mesas, wide spinifex clothed plains, gibber flats and deep tree lined gorges containing permanent water. Access to the park is via a rough unmaintained road running from the south entrance off the Talawana Track 28km west of the Parnngurr community access intersection, through to the Telfer Mine Access Road at the northern entrance.
A group of us spent a few days exploring southern section of Karlamilyi NP in early August 2022 as part of a Moon Tours expedition across the South and Western Australia deserts. A week later we traversed northern section of the park and along shore of Lake Dora when travelling solo homeward from WA to the NT.
After refuelling and restocking at the great little community of Parnngurr we camped for the night at the park’s southern entrance in an area known as White Gums Bore. Despite a sign off the Talawana Track advising “WATER” was ahead we found that bore out of service with the hand pump removed…
It still however made for a great camp site for our group and given we were just outside of the National Park firewood was soon gathered for the evening fire.
From White Gums we headed northward and the first 30km of track into the park was narrow and corrugated as it traversed sandy plains and low dunes. Deeper into the corrugations are replaced by a good track occasionally crossed by hard rocky intrusions and washouts as the countryside approaches the Rudall River. The track then crosses a few water courses before reaching the Rudall River’s wide and sandy bed.
Just across the river we found a broad flat area covered by quartz pebbles that made an excellent camp ground for the group, so we set up early before unhitching and setting off to explore the area.
With some spare time I also took the opportunity for a bit of maintenance, including replacing worn out bushes in the original shock absorber still fitted to the TVAN.
With the rig tidied up and lunch eaten I set out to explore along the river, firstly heading downstream for a few kilometres before taking a 20km loop westward, following an old prospecting track. The countryside was mostly rocky and rough, with some impressive red sandstone jumpups rising from spinifex flats intersected by small water courses. There were also several camels moving through the area, with one particularly large group found when I circled back onto a waterhole on the river.
The following day we moved to northern side of the park along tracks that were firm though rough, with plenty of washouts and other erosion damage. Another cracking camp site was found under shadow of a large red rock escarpment pock marked with small caves.
I clambered up and along the jumpup checking in the caves and fissures of the cliff face but found no indigenous art or artefacts, though there was plenty of wallaby scat and other evidence of animals sheltering up there.
Another reason for choosing this site was its proximity to start of the access track into Desert Queen Baths, a glorious permanent waterhole in a small gorge complex on Rooney Creek, a tributary of the Rudall River.
The track in and out of the Baths is fairly rough but navigable for a camper trailer if you wanted to camp nearer to the waterhole. Its also very scenic, weaving between mesas and other rock features while being lined with wild flowers and surrounded by large flocks of budgies, finches and pigeons owing to the permanent water supply nearby.
The northern exit (or entrance) road from boundary of the National Park to the Telfer Mine Road is approximately 120km of rough and eroded track. In some places the track has become the water course and ends up deeply cut into the landscape, while some of the creek crossings are wide, soft and sandy.
The track ends up passing through the Telfer Mine lease, which means the road becomes well graded and maintained but it is necessary to stay strictly on the main route and not venture into the mine operational areas.
Once through the mine entrance security check point we were on the main road to Marble Bar, and also our next night’s camp at the Meentheena Veteran’s Retreat camp grounds. Meentheena is a working cattle property and the Veterans Retreats of Western Australia organisation has obtained a licence to use a large portion of the property to provide a safe and quiet haven for ex/ military and services personnel to take a break. The campground is a work in progress with volunteers running and building the facilities, fees go toward further development of the grounds.
From Meentheena we continued to Marble Bar then northward through Shay Gap and beyond – but that’s a story for the next blog instalment 😉
The night before coming through, the area received 30mm of rain resulting in the road being very wet and soft – mine personnel closed the road to prevent it being damaged but ended up letting us pass through, holding back only mine traffic and heavy vehicles. To exacerbate conditions, a gang was in the process of resurfacing the road with fresh gravel and the loose new surface had not yet been rolled and compacted before the rainfall.
With exception of the recent rain the road is generally wide, flat and well maintained to the junction where the Punmu/Kunawarritji Road turns away to the east. From here the road is still good though not quite as well maintained, but without the road trains and other mine traffic to contend with.
The sticky road surface was going to make our end of trip clean up a big task…
Eventually the road enters northern section of Karlamilyi National Park where it skirts around northern shore of Lake Dora. The lake contained a good body of water, the result of recent and earlier rainfall.
Area around the lake was open and flat, covered in spinifex and small shrubs, but without the trees and taller scrub that I expected to see near a lake that often contains water.
On eastern side of the lake is the small indigenous community of Punmu, but given that that it was the weekend we didn’t enter knowing that the store and other facilities would likely be closed. We had only seen one vehicle in the hours since turning off Telfer Road so thought it was safe enough to stop for lunch on the roadside given there was nowhere clear or dry enough to pull completely clear of the road.
To catch up on our Gary Junction Road adventures check out the future blog that’s coming for that leg of our trip (or enter your email at the home page to subscribe and get notification when the blog is posted)